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Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh (1899)
J S Le Fanu



TO
THE RIGHT HON.
THE COUNTESS OF GIFFORD,
AS A TOKEN OF
RESPECT, SYMPATHY, AND ADMIRATION
_This Tale_
IS INSCRIBED BY
THE AUTHOR



_A PRELIMINARY WORD_

The writer of this Tale ventures, in his own person, to address a very few
words, chiefly of explanation, to his readers. A leading situation in this
'Story of Bartram-Haugh' is repeated, with a slight variation, from a short
magazine tale of some fifteen pages written by him, and published long ago
in a periodical under the title of 'A Passage in the Secret History of an
Irish Countess,' and afterwards, still anonymously, in a small volume under
an altered title. It is very unlikely that any of his readers should have
encountered, and still more so that they should remember, this trifle. The
bare possibility, however, he has ventured to anticipate by this brief
explanation, lest he should be charged with plagiarism--always a disrespect
to a reader.

May he be permitted a few words also of remonstrance against the
promiscuous application of the term 'sensation' to that large school of
fiction which transgresses no one of those canons of construction and
morality which, in producing the unapproachable 'Waverley Novels,' their
great author imposed upon himself? No one, it is assumed, would describe
Sir Walter Scott's romances as 'sensation novels;' yet in that marvellous
series there is not a single tale in which death, crime, and, in some form,
mystery, have not a place.

Passing by those grand romances of 'Ivanhoe,' 'Old Mortality,' and
'Kenilworth,' with their terrible intricacies of crime and bloodshed,
constructed with so fine a mastery of the art of exciting suspense and
horror, let the reader pick out those two exceptional novels in the series
which profess to paint contemporary manners and the scenes of common life;
and remembering in the 'Antiquary' the vision in the tapestried chamber,
the duel, the horrible secret, and the death of old Elspeth, the drowned
fisherman, and above all the tremendous situation of the tide-bound party
under the cliffs; and in 'St. Ronan's Well,' the long-drawn mystery, the
suspicion of insanity, and the catastrophe of suicide;--determine whether
an epithet which it would be a profanation to apply to the structure of
any, even the most exciting of Sir Walter Scott's stories, is fairly
applicable to tales which, though illimitably inferior in execution, yet
observe the same limitations of incident, and the same moral aims.

The author trusts that the Press, to whose masterly criticism and generous
encouragement he and other humble labourers in the art owe so much, will
insist upon the limitation of that degrading term to the peculiar type of
fiction which it was originally intended to indicate, and prevent, as they
may, its being made to include the legitimate school of tragic English
romance, which has been ennobled, and in great measure founded, by the
genius of Sir Walter Scott.




CONTENTS

I. AUSTIN RUTHYN, OF KNOWL, AND HIS DAUGHTER
II. UNCLE SILAS
III. A NEW FACE
IV. MADAME DE LA ROUGIERRE
V. SIGHTS AND NOISES
VI. A WALK IN THE WOOD
VII. CHURCH SCARSDALE
VIII. THE SMOKER
IX. MONICA KNOLLYS
X. LADY KNOLLYS REMOVES A COVERLET
XI. LADY KNOLLYS SEES THE FEATURES
XII. A CURIOUS CONVERSATION
XIII. BEFORE AND AFTER BREAKFAST
XIV. ANGRY WORDS
XV. A WARNING
XVI. DOCTOR BRYERLY LOOKS IN
XVII. AN ADVENTURE
XVIII. A MIDNIGHT VISITOR
XIX. AU REVOIR
XX. AUSTIN RUTHYN SETS OUT ON HIS JOURNEY
XXI. ARRIVALS
XXII. SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM WITH THE COFFIN
XXIII. I TALK WITH DOCTOR BRYERLY
XXIV. THE OPENING OF THE WILL
XXV. I HEAR FROM UNCLE SILAS
XXVI. THE STORY OF UNCLE SILAS
XXVII. MORE ABOUT TOM CHARKE'S SUICIDE
XXVIII. I AM PERSUADED
XXIX. HOW THE AMBASSADOR FARED
XXX. ON THE ROAD
XXXI. BARTRAM-HAUGH
XXXII. UNCLE SILAS
XXXIII. THE WINDMILL WOOD
XXXIV. ZAMIEL
XXXV. WE VISIT A ROOM IN THE SECOND STOREY
XXXVI. AN ARRIVAL AT DEAD OF NIGHT
XXXVII. DOCTOR BRYERLY EMERGES
XXXVIII. A MIDNIGHT DEPARTURE
XXXIX. COUSIN MONICA AND UNCLE SILAS MEET
XL. IN WHICH I MAKE ANOTHER COUSIN'S ACQUAINTANCE
XLI. MY COUSIN DUDLEY
XLII. ELVERSTON AND ITS PEOPLE
XLIII. NEWS AT BARTRAM GATE
XLIV. A FRIEND ARISES
XLV. A CHAPTER-FULL OF LOVERS
XLVI. THE RIVALS
XLVII. DOCTOR BRYERLY REAPPEARS
XLVIII. QUESTION AND ANSWER
XLIX. AN APPARITION
L. MILLY'S FAREWELL
LI. SARAH MATILDA COMES TO LIGHT
LII. THE PICTURE OF A WOLF
LIII. AN ODD PROPOSAL
LIV. IN SEARCH OF MR. CHARKE'S SKELETON
LV. THE FOOT OF HERCULES
LVI. I CONSPIRE
LVII. THE LETTER
LVIII. LADY KNOLLYS' CARRIAGE
LIX. A SUDDEN DEPARTURE
LX. THE JOURNEY
LXI. OUR BED-CHAMBER
LXII. A WELL-KNOWN FACE LOOKS IN
LXIII. SPICED CLARET
LXIV. THE HOUR OF DEATH
LXV. IN THE OAK PARLOUR
CONCLUSION





CHAPTER I

_AUSTIN RUTHYN, OF KNOWL, AND HIS DAUGHTER_


It was winter--that is, about the second week in November--and great gusts
were rattling at the windows, and wailing and thundering among our tall
trees and ivied chimneys--a very dark night, and a very cheerful fire
blazing, a pleasant mixture of good round coal and spluttering dry wood, in
a genuine old fireplace, in a sombre old room. Black wainscoting glimmered
up to the ceiling, in small ebony panels; a cheerful clump of wax candles
on the tea-table; many old portraits, some grim and pale, others pretty,
and some very graceful and charming, hanging from the walls. Few pictures,
except portraits long and short, were there. On the whole, I think you
would have taken the room for our parlour. It was not like our modern
notion of a drawing-room. It was a long room too, and every way capacious,
but irregularly shaped.

A girl, of a little more than seventeen, looking, I believe, younger still;
slight and rather tall, with a great deal of golden hair, dark grey-eyed,
and with a countenance rather sensitive and melancholy, was sitting at the
tea-table, in a reverie. I was that girl.

The only other person in the room--the only person in the house related to
me--was my father. He was Mr. Ruthyn, of Knowl, so called in his county,
but he had many other places, was of a very ancient lineage, who had
refused a baronetage often, and it was said even a viscounty, being of a
proud and defiant spirit, and thinking themselves higher in station and
purer of blood than two-thirds of the nobility into whose ranks, it was
said, they had been invited to enter. Of all this family lore I knew but
little and vaguely; only what is to be gathered from the fireside talk of
old retainers in the nursery.

I am sure my father loved me, and I know I loved him. With the sure
instinct of childhood I apprehended his tenderness, although it was never
expressed in common ways. But my father was an oddity. He had been early
disappointed in Parliament, where it was his ambition to succeed. Though a
clever man, he failed there, where very inferior men did extremely well.
Then he went abroad, and became a connoisseur and a collector; took a part,
on his return, in literary and scientific institutions, and also in the
foundation and direction of some charities. But he tired of this mimic
government, and gave himself up to a country life, not that of a sportsman,
but rather of a student, staying sometimes at one of his places and
sometimes at another, and living a secluded life.

Rather late in life he married, and his beautiful young wife died, leaving
me, their only child, to his care. This bereavement, I have been told,
changed him--made him more odd and taciturn than ever, and his temper also,
except to me, more severe. There was also some disgrace about his younger
brother--my uncle Silas--which he felt bitterly.

He was now walking up and down this spacious old room, which, extending
round an angle at the far end, was very dark in that quarter. It was his
wont to walk up and down thus, without speaking--an exercise which used to
remind me of Chateaubriand's father in the great chamber of the Château
de Combourg. At the far end he nearly disappeared in the gloom, and then
returning emerged for a few minutes, like a portrait with a background of
shadow, and then again in silence faded nearly out of view.

This monotony and silence would have been terrifying to a person less
accustomed to it than I. As it was, it had its effect. I have known my
father a whole day without once speaking to me. Though I loved him very
much, I was also much in awe of him.

While my father paced the floor, my thoughts were employed about the events
of a month before. So few things happened at Knowl out of the accustomed
routine, that a very trifling occurrence was enough to set people wondering
and conjecturing in that serene household. My father lived in remarkable
seclusion; except for a ride, he hardly ever left the grounds of Knowl; and
I don't think it happened twice in the year that a visitor sojourned among
us.

There was not even that mild religious bustle which sometimes besets the
wealthy and moral recluse. My father had left the Church of England for
some odd sect, I forget its name, and ultimately became, I was told, a
Swedenborgian. But he did not care to trouble me upon the subject. So the
old carriage brought my governess, when I had one, the old housekeeper,
Mrs. Rusk, and myself to the parish church every Sunday. And my father, in
the view of the honest rector who shook his head over him--'a cloud without
water, carried about of winds, and a wandering star to whom is reserved the
blackness of darkness'--corresponded with the 'minister' of his church, and
was provokingly contented with his own fertility and illumination; and
Mrs. Rusk, who was a sound and bitter churchwoman, said he fancied he saw
visions and talked with angels like the rest of that 'rubbitch.'

I don't know that she had any better foundation than analogy and conjecture
for charging my father with supernatural pretensions; and in all points
when her orthodoxy was not concerned, she loved her master and was a loyal
housekeeper.

I found her one morning superintending preparations for the reception of
a visitor, in the hunting-room it was called, from the pieces of tapestry
that covered its walls, representing scenes _à la Wouvermans_, of falconry,
and the chase, dogs, hawks, ladies, gallants, and pages. In the midst of
whom Mrs. Rusk, in black silk, was rummaging drawers, counting linen, and
issuing orders.

'Who is coming, Mrs. Rusk?'

Well, she only knew his name. It was a Mr. Bryerly. My papa expected him to
dinner, and to stay for some days.

'I guess he's one of those creatures, dear, for I mentioned his name just
to Dr. Clay (the rector), and he says there _is_ a Doctor Bryerly, a great
conjurer among the Swedenborg sect--and that's him, I do suppose.'

In my hazy notions of these sectaries there was mingled a suspicion of
necromancy, and a weird freemasonry, that inspired something of awe and
antipathy.

Mr. Bryerly arrived time enough to dress at his leisure, before dinner. He
entered the drawing-room--a tall, lean man, all in ungainly black, with a
white choker, with either a black wig, or black hair dressed in imitation
of one, a pair of spectacles, and a dark, sharp, short visage, rubbing his
large hands together, and with a short brisk nod to me, whom he plainly
regarded merely as a child, he sat down before the fire, crossed his legs,
and took up a magazine.

This treatment was mortifying, and I remember very well the resentment of
which _he_ was quite unconscious.

His stay was not very long; not one of us divined the object of his visit,
and he did not prepossess us favourably. He seemed restless, as men of busy
habits do in country houses, and took walks, and a drive, and read in the
library, and wrote half a dozen letters.

His bed-room and dressing-room were at the side of the gallery, directly
opposite to my father's, which had a sort of ante-room _en suite_, in which
were some of his theological books.

The day after Mr. Bryerly's arrival, I was about to see whether my father's
water caraffe and glass had been duly laid on the table in this ante-room,
and in doubt whether he was there, I knocked at the door.

I suppose they were too intent on other matters to hear, but receiving no
answer, I entered the room. My father was sitting in his chair, with his
coat and waistcoat off, Mr. Bryerly kneeling on a stool beside him, rather
facing him, his black scratch wig leaning close to my father's grizzled
hair. There was a large tome of their divinity lore, I suppose, open on
the table close by. The lank black figure of Mr. Bryerly stood up, and he
concealed something quickly in the breast of his coat.

My father stood up also, looking paler, I think, than I ever saw him till
then, and he pointed grimly to the door, and said, 'Go.'

Mr. Bryerly pushed me gently back with his hands to my shoulders, and
smiled down from his dark features with an expression quite unintelligible
to me.

I had recovered myself in a second, and withdrew without a word. The last
thing I saw at the door was the tall, slim figure in black, and the dark,
significant smile following me: and then the door was shut and locked, and
the two Swedenborgians were left to their mysteries.

I remember so well the kind of shock and disgust I felt in the certainty
that I had surprised them at some, perhaps, debasing incantation--a
suspicion of this Mr. Bryerly, of the ill-fitting black coat, and white
choker--and a sort of fear came upon me, and I fancied he was asserting
some kind of mastery over my father, which very much alarmed me.

I fancied all sorts of dangers in the enigmatical smile of the lank
high-priest. The image of my father, as I had seen him, it might be,
confessing to this man in black, who was I knew not what, haunted me with
the disagreeable uncertainties of a mind very uninstructed as to the limits
of the marvellous.

I mentioned it to no one. But I was immensely relieved when the sinister
visitor took his departure the morning after, and it was upon this
occurrence that my mind was now employed.

Some one said that Dr. Johnson resembled a ghost, who must be spoken to
before it will speak. But my father, in whatever else he may have resembled
a ghost, did not in that particular; for no one but I in his household--and
I very seldom--dared to address him until first addressed by him. I had no
notion how singular this was until I began to go out a little among friends
and relations, and found no such rule in force anywhere else.

As I leaned back in my chair thinking, this phantasm of my father came, and
turned, and vanished with a solemn regularity. It was a peculiar figure,
strongly made, thick-set, with a face large, and very stern; he wore a
loose, black velvet coat and waistcoat. It was, however, the figure of an
elderly rather than an old man--though he was then past seventy--but firm,
and with no sign of feebleness.

I remember the start with which, not suspecting that he was close by me, I
lifted my eyes, and saw that large, rugged countenance looking fixedly on
me, from less than a yard away.

After I saw him, he continued to regard me for a second or two; and then,
taking one of the heavy candlesticks in his gnarled hand, he beckoned me to
follow him; which, in silence and wondering, I accordingly did.

He led me across the hall, where there were lights burning, and into a
lobby by the foot of the back stairs, and so into his library.

It is a long, narrow room, with two tall, slim windows at the far end, now
draped in dark curtains. Dusky it was with but one candle; and he paused
near the door, at the left-hand side of which stood, in those days, an
old-fashioned press or cabinet of carved oak. In front of this he stopped.

He had odd, absent ways, and talked more to himself, I believe, than to all
the rest of the world put together.

'She won't understand,' he whispered, looking at me enquiringly. 'No, she
won't. _Will_ she?'

Then there was a pause, during which he brought forth from his breast
pocket a small bunch of some half-dozen keys, on one of which he looked
frowningly, every now and then balancing it a little before his eyes,
between his finger and thumb, as he deliberated.

I knew him too well, of course, to interpose a word.

'They are easily frightened--ay, they are. I'd better do it another way.'

And pausing, he looked in my face as he might upon a picture.

'They _are_--yes--I had better do it another way--another way; yes--and
she'll not suspect--she'll not suppose.'

Then he looked steadfastly upon the key, and from it to me, suddenly
lifting it up, and said abruptly, 'See, child,' and, after a second or two,
'_Remember_ this key.'

It was oddly shaped, and unlike others.

'Yes, sir.' I always called him 'sir.'

'It opens that,' and he tapped it sharply on the door of the cabinet. 'In
the daytime it is always here,' at which word he dropped it into his pocket
again. 'You see?--and at night under my pillow--you hear me?'

'Yes, sir.'

'You won't forget this cabinet--oak--next the door--on your left--you won't
forget?'

'No, sir.'

'Pity she's a girl, and so young--ay, a girl, and so young--no
sense--giddy. You say, you'll _remember_?'

'Yes, sir.'

'It behoves you.'

He turned round and looked full upon me, like a man who has taken a sudden
resolution; and I think for a moment he had made up his mind to tell me a
great deal more. But if so, he changed it again; and after another pause,
he said slowly and sternly--'You will tell nobody what I have said, under
pain of my displeasure.'

'Oh! no, sir!'

'Good child!'

'_Except_,' he resumed, 'under one contingency; that is, in case I should
be absent, and Dr. Bryerly--you recollect the thin gentleman, in spectacles
and a black wig, who spent three days here last month--should come and
enquire for the key, you understand, in my absence.'

'Yes, sir.'

So he kissed me on the forehead, and said--

'Let us return.'

Which, accordingly, we did, in silence; the storm outside, like a dirge on
a great organ, accompanying our flitting.




CHAPTER II

_UNCLE SILAS_


When we reached the drawing-room, I resumed my chair, and my father his
slow and regular walk to and fro, in the great room. Perhaps it was the
uproar of the wind that disturbed the ordinary tenor of his thoughts; but,
whatever was the cause, certainly he was unusually talkative that night.

After an interval of nearly half an hour, he drew near again, and sat down
in a high-backed arm-chair, beside the fire, and nearly opposite to me, and
looked at me steadfastly for some time, as was his wont, before speaking;
and said he--

'This won't do--you must have a governess.'

In cases of this kind I merely set down my book or work, as it might be,
and adjusted myself to listen without speaking.

'Your French is pretty well, and your Italian; but you have no German.
Your music may be pretty good--I'm no judge--but your drawing might be
better--yes--yes. I believe there are accomplished ladies--finishing
governesses, they call them--who undertake more than any one teacher would
have professed in my time, and do very well. She can prepare you, and
next winter, then, you shall visit France and Italy, where you may be
accomplished as highly as you please.'

'Thank you, sir.'

'You shall. It is nearly six months since Miss Ellerton left you--too long
without a teacher.'

Then followed an interval.

'Dr. Bryerly will ask you about that key, and what it opens; you show all
that to _him_, and no one else.'

'But,' I said, for I had a great terror of disobeying him in ever so minute
a matter, 'you will then be absent, sir--how am I to find the key?'

He smiled on me suddenly--a bright but wintry smile--it seldom came, and
was very transitory, and kindly though mysterious.

'True, child; I'm glad you are so wise; _that_, you will find, I have
provided for, and you shall know exactly where to look. You have remarked
how solitarily I live. You fancy, perhaps, I have not got a friend, and
you are nearly right--_nearly_, but not altogether. I have a very sure
friend--_one_--a friend whom I once misunderstood, but now appreciate.'

I wondered silently whether it could be Uncle Silas.

'He'll make me a call, some day soon; I'm not quite sure when. I won't tell
you his name--you'll hear that soon enough, and I don't want it talked of;
and I must make a little journey with him. You'll not be afraid of being
left alone for a time?'

'And have you promised, sir?' I answered, with another question, my
curiosity and anxiety overcoming my awe. He took my questioning very
good-humouredly.

'Well--_promise_?--no, child; but I'm under condition; he's not to be
denied. I must make the excursion with him the moment he calls. I have no
choice; but, on the whole, I rather like it--remember, I say, I rather
_like_ it.'

And he smiled again, with the same meaning, that was at once stern and sad.
The exact purport of these sentences remained fixed in my mind, so that
even at this distance of time I am quite sure of them.

A person quite unacquainted with my father's habitually abrupt and odd way
of talking, would have fancied that he was possibly a little disordered in
his mind. But no such suspicion for a moment troubled me. I was quite sure
that he spoke of a real person who was coming, and that his journey was
something momentous; and when the visitor of whom he spoke did come, and he
departed with him upon that mysterious excursion, I perfectly understood
his language and his reasons for saying so much and yet so little.

You are not to suppose that all my hours were passed in the sort of
conference and isolation of which I have just given you a specimen; and
singular and even awful as were sometimes my _tête-a-têtes_ with my father,
I had grown so accustomed to his strange ways, and had so unbounded a
confidence in his affection, that they never depressed or agitated me in
the manner you might have supposed. I had a great deal of quite a different
sort of chat with good old Mrs. Rusk, and very pleasant talks with Mary
Quince, my somewhat ancient maid; and besides all this, I had now and then
a visit of a week or so at the house of some one of our country neighbours,
and occasionally a visitor--but this, I must own, very rarely--at Knowl.

There had come now a little pause in my father's revelations, and my fancy
wandered away upon a flight of discovery. Who, I again thought, could this
intending visitor be, who was to come, armed with the prerogative to make
my stay-at-home father forthwith leave his household goods--his books and
his child--to whom he clung, and set forth on an unknown knight-errantry?
Who but Uncle Silas, I thought--that mysterious relative whom I had
never seen--who was, it had in old times been very darkly hinted to me,
unspeakably unfortunate or unspeakably vicious--whom I had seldom heard my
father mention, and then in a hurried way, and with a pained, thoughtful
look. Once only he had said anything from which I could gather my father's
opinion of him, and then it was so slight and enigmatical that I might have
filled in the character very nearly as I pleased.

It happened thus. One day Mrs. Rusk was in the oak-room, I being then about
fourteen. She was removing a stain from a tapestry chair, and I watched the
process with a childish interest. She sat down to rest herself--she had
been stooping over her work--and threw her head back, for her neck was
weary, and in this position she fixed her eyes on a portrait that hung
before her.

It was a full-length, and represented a singularly handsome young man,
dark, slender, elegant, in a costume then quite obsolete, though I believe
it was seen at the beginning of this century--white leather pantaloons and
top-boots, a buff waistcoat, and a chocolate-coloured coat, and the hair
long and brushed back.

There was a remarkable elegance and a delicacy in the features, but also a
character of resolution and ability that quite took the portrait out of the
category of mere fops or fine men. When people looked at it for the first
time, I have so often heard the exclamation--'What a wonderfully handsome
man!' and then, 'What a clever face!' An Italian greyhound stood by him,
and some slender columns and a rich drapery in the background. But though
the accessories were of the luxurious sort, and the beauty, as I have said,
refined, there was a masculine force in that slender oval face, and a fire
in the large, shadowy eyes, which were very peculiar, and quite redeemed it
from the suspicion of effeminacy.

'Is not that Uncle Silas?' said I.

'Yes, dear,' answered Mrs. Rusk, looking, with her resolute little face,
quietly on the portrait.

'He must be a very handsome man, Mrs. Rusk. Don't you think so?' I
continued.

'He _was_, my dear--yes; but it is forty years since that was painted--the
date is there in the corner, in the shadow that comes from his foot, and
forty years, I can tell you, makes a change in most of us;' and Mrs. Rusk
laughed, in cynical good-humour.

There was a little pause, both still looking on the handsome man in
top-boots, and I said--

'And why, Mrs. Rusk, is papa always so sad about Uncle Silas?'

'What's that, child?' said my father's voice, very near. I looked round,
with a start, and flushed and faltered, receding a step from him.

'No harm, dear. You have said nothing wrong,' he said gently, observing
my alarm. 'You said I was always sad, I think, about Uncle Silas. Well,
I don't know how you gather that; but if I were, I will now tell you, it
would not be unnatural. Your uncle is a man of great talents, great faults,
and great wrongs. His talents have not availed him; his faults are long ago
repented of; and his wrongs I believe he feels less than I do, but they are
deep. Did she say any more, madam?' he demanded abruptly of Mrs. Rusk.

'Nothing, sir,' with a stiff little courtesy, answered Mrs. Rusk, who stood
in awe of him.

'And there is no need, child,' he continued, addressing himself to me,
'that you should think more of him at present. Clear your head of Uncle
Silas. One day, perhaps, you will know him--yes, very well--and understand
how villains have injured him.

Then my father retired, and at the door he said--

'Mrs. Rusk, a word, if you please,' beckoning to that lady, who trotted
after him to the library.

I think he then laid some injunction upon the housekeeper, which was
transmitted by her to Mary Quince, for from that time forth I could never
lead either to talk with me about Uncle Silas. They let me talk on, but
were reserved and silent themselves, and seemed embarrassed, and Mrs. Rusk
sometimes pettish and angry, when I pressed for information.

Thus curiosity was piqued; and round the slender portrait in the leather
pantaloons and top-boots gathered many-coloured circles of mystery, and the
handsome features seemed to smile down upon my baffled curiosity with a
provoking significance.

Why is it that this form of ambition--curiosity--which entered into the
temptation of our first parent, is so specially hard to resist? Knowledge
is power--and power of one sort or another is the secret lust of human
souls; and here is, beside the sense of exploration, the undefinable
interest of a story, and above all, something forbidden, to stimulate the
contumacious appetite.




CHAPTER III

_A NEW FACE_


I think it was about a fortnight after that conversation in which my father
had expressed his opinion, and given me the mysterious charge about the
old oak cabinet in his library, as already detailed, that I was one night
sitting at the great drawing-room window, lost in the melancholy reveries
of night, and in admiration of the moonlighted scene. I was the only
occupant of the room; and the lights near the fire, at its farther end,
hardly reached to the window at which I sat.

The shorn grass sloped gently downward from the windows till it met the
broad level on which stood, in clumps, or solitarily scattered, some of the
noblest timber in England. Hoar in the moonbeams stood those graceful
trees casting their moveless shadows upon the grass, and in the background
crowning the undulations of the distance, in masses, were piled those woods
among which lay the solitary tomb where the remains of my beloved mother
rested.

The air was still. The silvery vapour hung serenely on the far horizon,
and the frosty stars blinked brightly. Everyone knows the effect of such a
scene on a mind already saddened. Fancies and regrets float mistily in
the dream, and the scene affects us with a strange mixture of memory and
anticipation, like some sweet old air heard in the distance. As my eyes
rested on those, to me, funereal but glorious woods, which formed the
background of the picture, my thoughts recurred to my father's mysterious
intimations and the image of the approaching visitor; and the thought of
the unknown journey saddened me.

In all that concerned his religion, from very early association, there was
to me something of the unearthly and spectral.

When my dear mamma died I was not nine years old; and I remember, two days
before the funeral, there came to Knowl, where she died, a thin little man,
with large black eyes, and a very grave, dark face.

He was shut up a good deal with my dear father, who was in deep affliction;
and Mrs. Rusk used to say, 'It is rather odd to see him praying with that
little scarecrow from London, and good Mr. Clay ready at call, in the
village; much good that little black whipper-snapper will do him!'

With that little black man, on the day after the funeral, I was sent out,
for some reason, for a walk; my governess was ill, I know, and there was
confusion in the house, and I dare say the maids made as much of a holiday
as they could.

I remember feeling a sort of awe of this little dark man; but I was not
afraid of him, for he was gentle, though sad--and seemed kind. He led me
into the garden--the Dutch garden, we used to call it--with a balustrade,
and statues at the farther front, laid out in a carpet-pattern of
brilliantly-coloured flowers. We came down the broad flight of Caen stone
steps into this, and we walked in silence to the balustrade. The base was
too high at the spot where we reached it for me to see over; but holding my
hand, he said, 'Look through that, my child. Well, you can't; but _I_ can
see beyond it--shall I tell you what? I see ever so much. I see a cottage
with a steep roof, that looks like gold in the sunlight; there are tall
trees throwing soft shadows round it, and flowering shrubs, I can't say
what, only the colours are beautiful, growing by the walls and windows, and
two little children are playing among the stems of the trees, and we are on
our way there, and in a few minutes shall be under those trees ourselves,
and talking to those little children. Yet now to me it is but a picture in
my brain, and to you but a story told by me, which you believe. Come, dear;
let us be going.'

So we descended the steps at the right, and side by side walked along the
grass lane between tall trim walls of evergreens. The way was in deep
shadow, for the sun was near the horizon; but suddenly we turned to the
left, and there we stood in rich sunlight, among the many objects he had
described.

'Is this your house, my little men?' he asked of the children--pretty
little rosy boys--who assented; and he leaned with his open hand against
the stem of one of the trees, and with a grave smile he nodded down to me,
saying--

'You see now, and hear, and _feel_ for yourself that both the vision and
the story were quite true; but come on, my dear, we have further to go.'

And relapsing into silence we had a long ramble through the wood, the same
on which I was now looking in the distance. Every now and then he made me
sit down to rest, and he in a musing solemn sort of way would relate some
little story, reflecting, even to my childish mind, a strange suspicion
of a spiritual meaning, but different from what honest Mrs. Rusk used
to expound to me from the Parables, and, somehow, startling in its very
vagueness.

Thus entertained, though a little awfully, I accompanied the dark
mysterious little 'whipper-snapper' through the woodland glades. We came,
to me quite unexpectedly, in the deep sylvan shadows, upon the grey,
pillared temple, four-fronted, with a slanting pedestal of lichen-stained
steps, the lonely sepulchre in which I had the morning before seen poor
mamma laid. At the sight the fountains of my grief reopened, and I cried
bitterly, repeating, 'Oh! mamma, mamma, little mamma!' and so went on
weeping and calling wildly on the deaf and the silent. There was a stone
bench some ten steps away from the tomb.

'Sit down beside me, my child,' said the grave man with the black eyes,
very kindly and gently. 'Now, what do you see there?' he asked, pointing
horizontally with his stick towards the centre of the opposite structure.

'Oh, _that_--that place where poor mamma is?'

'Yes, a stone wall with pillars, too high for either you or me to see over.
But----'

Here he mentioned a name which I think must have been Swedenborg, from what
I afterwards learnt of his tenets and revelations; I only know that it
sounded to me like the name of a magician in a fairy tale; I fancied he
lived in the wood which surrounded us, and I began to grow frightened as he
proceeded.

'But Swedenborg sees beyond it, over, and _through_ it, and has told me all
that concerns us to know. He says your mamma is not there.'

'She is taken away!' I cried, starting up, and with streaming eyes, gazing
on the building which, though I stamped my feet in my distraction, I was
afraid to approach. 'Oh, _is_ mamma taken away? Where is she? Where have
they brought her to?'

I was uttering unconsciously very nearly the question with which Mary,
in the grey of that wondrous morning on which she stood by the empty
sepulchre, accosted the figure standing near.

'Your mamma is alive but too far away to see or hear us. Swedenborg,
standing here, can see and hear her, and tells me all he sees, just as I
told you in the garden about the little boys and the cottage, and the trees
and flowers which you could not see. You believed in when _I_ told you. So
I can tell you now as I did then; and as we are both, I hope, walking on to
the same place just as we did to the trees and cottage. You will surely see
with your own eyes how true the description is which I give you.'

I was very frightened, for I feared that when he had done his narrative we
were to walk on through the wood into that place of wonders and of shadows
where the dead were visible.

He leaned his elbow on his knee, and his forehead on his hand, which
shaded his downcast eyes. In that attitude he described to me a beautiful
landscape, radiant with a wondrous light, in which, rejoicing, my mother
moved along an airy path, ascending among mountains of fantastic height,
and peaks, melting in celestial colouring into the air, and peopled with
human beings translated into the same image, beauty, and splendour. And
when he had ended his relation, he rose, took my hand, and smiling gently
down on my pale, wondering face, he said the same words he had spoken
before--

'Come, dear, let us go.'

'Oh! no, no, _no_--not now,' I said, resisting, and very much frightened.

'Home, I mean, dear. We cannot walk to the place I have described. We can
only reach it through the gate of death, to which we are all tending, young
and old, with sure steps.'

'And where is the gate of death?' I asked in a sort of whisper, as we
walked together, holding his hand, and looking stealthily. He smiled sadly
and said--

'When, sooner or later, the time comes, as Hagar's eyes were opened in the
wilderness, and she beheld the fountain of water, so shall each of us see
the door open before us, and enter in and be refreshed.'

For a long time following this walk I was very nervous; more so for the
awful manner in which Mrs. Rusk received my statement--with stern lips and
upturned hands and eyes, and an angry expostulation: 'I do wonder at
you, Mary Quince, letting the child walk into the wood with that limb of
darkness. It is a mercy he did not show her the devil, or frighten her out
of her senses, in that lonely place!'

Of these Swedenborgians, indeed, I know no more than I might learn from
good Mrs. Rusk's very inaccurate talk. Two or three of them crossed in the
course of my early life, like magic-lantern figures, the disk of my very
circumscribed observation. All outside was and is darkness. I once tried to
read one of their books upon the future state--heaven and hell; but I grew
after a day or two so nervous that I laid it aside. It is enough for me
to know that their founder either saw or fancied he saw amazing visions,
which, so far from superseding, confirmed and interpreted the language of
the Bible; and as dear papa accepted their ideas, I am happy in thinking
that they did not conflict with the supreme authority of holy writ.

Leaning on my hand, I was now looking upon that solemn wood, white and
shadowy in the moonlight, where, for a long time after that ramble with the
visionary, I fancied the gate of death, hidden only by a strange glamour,
and the dazzling land of ghosts, were situate; and I suppose these earlier
associations gave to my reverie about my father's coming visitor a wilder
and a sadder tinge.




CHAPTER IV

_MADAME DE LA ROUGIERRE_


On a sudden, on the grass before me, stood an odd figure--a very tall woman
in grey draperies, nearly white under the moon, courtesying extraordinarily
low, and rather fantastically.

I stared in something like a horror upon the large and rather hollow
features which I did not know, smiling very unpleasantly on me; and the
moment it was plain that I saw her, the grey woman began gobbling
and cackling shrilly--I could not distinctly hear _what_ through the
window--and gesticulating oddly with her long hands and arms.

As she drew near the window, I flew to the fireplace, and rang the bell
frantically, and seeing her still there, and fearing that she might break
into the room, I flew out of the door, very much frightened, and met
Branston the butler in the lobby.

'There's a woman at the window!' I gasped; 'turn her away, please.'

If I had said a man, I suppose fat Branston would have summoned and sent
forward a detachment of footmen. As it was, he bowed gravely, with a--

'Yes,'m--shall,'m.'

And with an air of authority approached the window.

I don't think that he was pleasantly impressed himself by the first sight
of our visitor, for he stopped short some steps of the window, and demanded
rather sternly--

'What ye doin' there, woman?'

To this summons, her answer, which occupied a little time, was inaudible to
me. But Branston replied--

'I wasn't aware, ma'am; I heerd nothin'; if you'll go round _that_ way,
you'll see the hall-door steps, and I'll speak to the master, and do as he
shall order.'

The figure said something and pointed.

'Yes, that's it, and ye can't miss the door.'

And Mr. Branston returned slowly down the long room, and halted with
out-turned pumps and a grave inclination before me, and the faintest amount
of interrogation in the announcement--

'Please,'m, she says she's the governess.'

'The governess! _What_ governess?'

Branston was too well-bred to smile, and he said thoughtfully--

'P'raps,'m, I'd best ask the master?'

To which I assented, and away strode the flat pumps of the butler to the
library.

I stood breathless in the hall. Every girl at my age knows how much is
involved in such an advent. I also heard Mrs. Rusk, in a minute or two
more, emerge I suppose from the study. She walked quickly, and muttered
sharply to herself--an evil trick, in which she indulged when much 'put
about.' I should have been glad of a word with her; but I fancied she was
vexed, and would not have talked satisfactorily. She did not, however, come
my way; merely crossing the hall with her quick, energetic step.

Was it really the arrival of a governess? Was that apparition which had
impressed me so unpleasantly to take the command of me--to sit alone with
me, and haunt me perpetually with her sinister looks and shrilly gabble?

I was just making up my mind to go to Mary Quince, and learn something
definite, when I heard my father's step approaching from the library: so
I quietly re-entered the drawingroom, but with an anxious and throbbing
heart.

When he came in, as usual, he patted me on the head gently, with a kind of
smile, and then began his silent walk up and down the room. I was yearning
to question him on the point that just then engrossed me so disagreeably;
but the awe in which I stood of him forbade.

After a time he stopped at the window, the curtain of which I had drawn,
and the shutter partly opened, and he looked out, perhaps with associations
of his own, on the scene I had been contemplating.

It was not for nearly an hour after, that my father suddenly, after his
wont, in a few words, apprised me of the arrival of Madame de la Rougierre
to be my governess, highly recommended and perfectly qualified. My heart
sank with a sure presage of ill. I already disliked, distrusted, and feared
her.

I had more than an apprehension of her temper and fear of possibly abused
authority. The large-featured, smirking phantom, saluting me so oddly in
the moonlight, retained ever after its peculiar and unpleasant hold upon my
nerves.

'Well, Miss Maud, dear, I hope you'll like your new governess--for it's
more than _I_ do, just at present at least,' said Mrs. Rusk, sharply--she
was awaiting me in my room. 'I hate them French-women; they're not natural,
I think. I gave her her supper in my room. She eats like a wolf, she does,
the great raw-boned hannimal. I wish you saw her in bed as I did. I put her
next the clock-room--she'll hear the hours betimes, I'm thinking. You never
saw such a sight. The great long nose and hollow cheeks of her, and oogh!
such a mouth! I felt a'most like little Red Riding-Hood--I did, Miss.'

Here honest Mary Quince, who enjoyed Mrs. Rusk's satire, a weapon in which
she was not herself strong, laughed outright.

'Turn down the bed, Mary. She's very agreeable--she is, just now--all
new-comers is; but she did not get many compliments from me, Miss--no,
I rayther think not. I wonder why honest English girls won't answer the
gentry for governesses, instead of them gaping, scheming, wicked furriners?
Lord forgi' me, I think they're all alike.'

Next morning I made acquaintance with Madame de la Rougierre. She was tall,
masculine, a little ghastly perhaps, and draped in purple silk, with a
lace cap, and great bands of black hair, too thick and black, perhaps, to
correspond quite naturally with her bleached and sallow skin, her hollow
jaws, and the fine but grim wrinkles traced about her brows and eyelids.
She smiled, she nodded, and then for a good while she scanned me in silence
with a steady cunning eye, and a stern smile.

'And how is she named--what is Mademoiselle's name?' said the tall
stranger.

'_Maud_, Madame.'

'Maud!--what pretty name! Eh bien! I am very sure my dear Maud she will
be very good little girl--is not so?--and I am sure I shall love you vary
moche. And what 'av you been learning, Maud, my dear cheaile--music,
French, German, eh?'

'Yes, a little; and I had just begun the use of the globes when my
governess went away.'

I nodded towards the globes, which stood near her, as I said this.

'Oh! yes--the globes;' and she spun one of them with her great hand. 'Je
vous expliquerai tout cela à fond.'

Madame de la Rougierre, I found, was always quite ready to explain
everything 'à fond;' but somehow her 'explications,' as she termed them,
were not very intelligible, and when pressed her temper woke up; so that I
preferred, after a while, accepting the expositions just as they came.

Madame was on an unusually large scale, a circumstance which made some of
her traits more startling, and altogether rendered her, in her strange way,
more awful in the eyes of a nervous _child,_ I may say, such as I was. She
used to look at me for a long time sometimes, with the peculiar smile
I have mentioned, and a great finger upon her lip, like the Eleusinian
priestess on the vase.

She would sit, too, sometimes for an hour together, looking into the fire
or out of the window, plainly seeing nothing, and with an odd, fixed look
of something like triumph--very nearly a smile--on her cunning face.

She was by no means a pleasant _gouvernante_ for a nervous girl of my
years. Sometimes she had accesses of a sort of hilarity which frightened me
still more than her graver moods, and I will describe these by-and-by.




CHAPTER V

_SIGHTS AND NOISES_


There is not an old house in England of which the servants and young people
who live in it do not cherish some traditions of the ghostly. Knowl has its
shadows, noises, and marvellous records. Rachel Ruthyn, the beauty of Queen
Anne's time, who died of grief for the handsome Colonel Norbrooke, who
was killed in the Low Countries, walks the house by night, in crisp and
sounding silks. She is not seen, only heard. The tapping of her high-heeled
shoes, the sweep and rustle of her brocades, her sighs as she pauses in the
galleries, near the bed-room doors; and sometimes, on stormy nights, her
sobs.

There is, beside, the 'link-man', a lank, dark-faced, black-haired man, in
a sable suit, with a link or torch in his hand. It usually only smoulders,
with a deep red glow, as he visits his beat. The library is one of the
rooms he sees to. Unlike 'Lady Rachel,' as the maids called her, he is seen
only, never heard. His steps fall noiseless as shadows on floor and carpet.
The lurid glow of his smouldering torch imperfectly lights his figure and
face, and, except when much perturbed, his link never blazes. On those
occasions, however, as he goes his rounds, he ever and anon whirls it
around his head, and it bursts into a dismal flame. This is a fearful omen,
and always portends some direful crisis or calamity. It occurs, only once
or twice in a century.

I don't know whether Madame had heard anything of these phenomena; but she
did report which very much frightened me and Mary Quince. She asked us who
walked in the gallery on which her bed-room opened, making a rustling with
her dress, and going down the stairs, and breathing long breaths here and
there. Twice, she said, she had stood at her door in the dark, listening to
these sounds, and once she called to know who it was. There was no answer,
but the person plainly turned back, and hurried towards her with an
unnatural speed, which made her jump within her door and shut it.

When first such tales are told, they excite the nerves of the young and the
ignorant intensely. But the special effect, I have found, soon wears out
The tale simply takes it's place with the rest. It was with Madame's
narrative.

About a week after its relation, I had my experience of a similar sort.
Mary Quince went down-stairs for a night-light, leaving me in bed, a candle
burning in the room, and being tired. I fell asleep before her return.
When I awoke the candle had been extinguished. But I heard a step softly
approaching. I jumped up--quite forgetting the ghost, and thinking only of
Mary Quince--and opened the door, expecting to see the light of her candle.
Instead, all was dark, and near me I heard the fall of a bare foot on the
oak floor. It was as if some one had stumbled. I said, 'Mary,' but no
answer came, only a rustling of clothes and a breathing at the other side
of the gallery, which passed off towards the upper staircase. I turned into
my room, freezing with horror, and clapt my door. The noise wakened Mary
Quince, who had returned and gone to her bed half an hour before.

About a fortnight after this, Mary Quince, a very veracious spinster,
reported to me, that having got up to fix the window, which was rattling,
at about four o'clock in the morning, she saw a light shining from the
library window. She could swear to its being a strong light, streaming
through the chinks of the shutter, and moving. No doubt the link was waved
about his head by the angry 'link-man.'

These strange occurrences helped, I think, just then to make me nervous,
and prepared the way for the odd sort of ascendency which, through my
sense of the mysterious and super-natural, that repulsive Frenchwoman was
gradually, and it seemed without effort, establishing over me.

Some dark points of her character speedily emerged from the prismatic mist
with which she had enveloped it.

Mrs. Rusk's observation about the agreeability of new-comers I found to be
true; for as Madame began to lose that character, her good-humour abated
very perceptibly, and she began to show gleams of another sort of temper,
that was lurid and dangerous.

Notwithstanding this, she was in the habit of always having her Bible open
by her, and was austerely attentive at morning and evening services, and
asked my father, with great humility, to lend her some translations of
Swedenborg's books, which she laid much to heart.

When we went out for our walk, if the weather were bad we generally made
our promenade up and down the broad terrace in front of the windows. Sullen
and malign at times she used to look, and as suddenly she would pat me on
the shoulder caressingly, and smile with a grotesque benignity, asking
tenderly, 'Are you fatigue, ma chère?' or 'Are you cold-a, dear Maud?'

At first these abrupt transitions puzzled me, sometimes half frightened
me, savouring, I fancied, of insanity. The key, however, was accidentally
supplied, and I found that these accesses of demonstrative affection were
sure to supervene whenever my father's face was visible through the library
windows.

I did not know well what to make of this woman, whom I feared with a vein
of superstitious dread. I hated being alone with her after dusk in the
school-room. She would sometimes sit for half an hour at a time, with her
wide mouth drawn down at the corners, and a scowl, looking into the fire.
If she saw me looking at her, she would change all this on the instant,
affect a sort of languor, and lean her head upon her hand, and ultimately
have recourse to her Bible. But I fancied she did not read, but pursued her
own dark ruminations, for I observed that the open book might often lie for
half an hour or more under her eyes and yet the leaf never turned.

I should have been glad to be assured that she prayed when on her knees, or
read when that book was before her; I should have felt that she was more
canny and human. As it was, those external pieties made a suspicion of a
hollow contrast with realities that helped to scare me; yet it was but a
suspicion--I could not be certain.

Our rector and the curate, with whom she was very gracious, and anxious
about my collects and catechism, had an exalted opinion of her. In public
places her affection for me was always demonstrative.

In like manner she contrived conferences with my father. She was always
making excuses to consult him about my reading, and to confide in him her
sufferings, as I learned, from my contumacy and temper. The fact is, I was
altogether quiet and submissive. But I think she had a wish to reduce me
to a state of the most abject bondage. She had designs of domination and
subversion regarding the entire household, I now believe, worthy of the
evil spirit I sometimes fancied her.

My father beckoned me into the study one day, and said he--

'You ought not to give poor Madame so much pain. She is one of the few
persons who take an interest in you; why should she have so often to
complain of your ill-temper and disobedience?--why should she be compelled
to ask my permission to punish you? Don't be afraid, I won't concede that.
But in so kind a person it argues much. Affection I can't command--respect
and obedience I may--and I insist on your rendering _both_ to Madame.'

'But sir,' I said, roused into courage by the gross injustice of the
charge, 'I have always done exactly as she bid me, and never said one
disrespectful word to Madame.'

'I don't think, child, _you_ are the best judge of that. Go, and _amend_.'
And with a displeased look he pointed to the door. My heart swelled with
the sense of wrong, and as I reached the door I turned to say another word,
but I could not, and only burst into tears.

'There--don't cry, little Maud--only let us do better for the future.
There--there--there has been enough.'

And he kissed my forehead, and gently put me out and closed the door.

In the school-room I took courage, and with some warmth upbraided Madame.

'Wat wicked cheaile!' moaned Madame, demurely. 'Read aloud those
three--yes, _those_ three chapters of the Bible, my dear Maud.'

There was no special fitness in those particular chapters, and when they
were ended she said in a sad tone--

'Now, dear, you must commit to memory this pretty priaire for umility of
art.'

It was a long one, and in a state of profound irritation I got through the
task.

Mrs. Rusk hated her. She said she stole wine and brandy whenever the
opportunity offered--that she was always asking her for such stimulants and
pretending pains in her stomach. Here, perhaps, there was exaggeration; but
I knew it was true that I had been at different times despatched on that
errand and pretext for brandy to Mrs. Rusk, who at last came to her bedside
with pills and a mustard blister only, and was hated irrevocably ever
after.

I felt all this was done to torture me. But a day is a long time to a
child, and they forgive quickly. It was always with a sense of danger that
I heard Madame say she must go and see Monsieur Ruthyn in the library,
and I think a jealousy of her growing influence was an ingredient in the
detestation in which honest Mrs. Rusk held her.




CHAPTER VI

_A WALK IN THE WOOD_


Two little pieces of by-play in which I detected her confirmed my
unpleasant suspicion. From the corner of the gallery I one day saw her,
when she thought I was out and all quiet, with her ear at the keyhole of
papa's study, as we used to call the sitting-room next his bed-room. Her
eyes were turned in the direction of the stairs, from which only she
apprehended surprise. Her great mouth was open, and her eyes absolutely
goggled with eagerness. She was devouring all that was passing there.
I drew back into the shadow with a kind of disgust and horror. She was
transformed into a great gaping reptile. I felt that I could have thrown
something at her; but a kind of fear made me recede again toward my room.
Indignation, however, quickly returned, and I came back, treading briskly
as I did so. When I reached the angle of the gallery again. Madame, I
suppose, had heard me, for she was half-way down the stairs.

'Ah, my dear Cheaile, I am so glad to find you, and you are dress to come
out. We shall have so pleasant walk.'

At that moment the door of my father's study opened, and Mrs. Rusk, with
her dark energetic face very much flushed, stepped out in high excitement.

'The Master says you may have the brandy-bottle, Madame and I'm glad to be
rid of it--_I_ am.'

Madame courtesied with a great smirk, that was full of intangible hate and
insult.

'Better your own brandy, if drink you must!' exclaimed Mrs. Rusk. 'You may
come to the store-room now, or the butler can take it.'

And off whisked Mrs. Rusk for the back staircase.

There had been no common skirmish on this occasion, but a pitched battle.

Madame had made a sort of pet of Anne Wixted, an underchambermaid, and
attached her to her interest economically by persuading me to make her
presents of some old dresses and other things. Anne was such an angel!

But Mrs. Rusk, whose eyes were about her, detected Anne, with a
brandy-bottle under her apron, stealing up-stairs. Anne, in a panic,
declared the truth. Madame had commissioned her to buy it in the town, and
convey it to her bed-room. Upon this, Mrs. Rusk impounded the flask; and,
with Anne beside her, rather precipitately appeared before 'the Master.' He
heard and summoned Madame. Madame was cool, frank, and fluent. The brandy
was purely medicinal. She produced a document in the form of a note. Doctor
Somebody presented his compliments to Madame de la Rougierre, and ordered
her a table-spoonful of brandy and some drops of laudanum whenever the pain
of stomach returned. The flask would last a whole year, perhaps two. She
claimed her medicine.

Man's estimate of woman is higher than woman's own. Perhaps in their
relations to men they are generally more trustworthy--perhaps woman's is
the juster, and the other an appointed illusion. I don't know; but so it is
ordained.

Mrs. Rusk was recalled, and I saw, as you are aware, Madame's procedure
during the interview.

It was a great battle--a great victory. Madame was in high spirits. The air
was sweet--the landscape charming--I, so good--everything so beautiful!
Where should we go? _this_ way?

I had made a resolution to speak as little as possible to Madame, I was so
incensed at the treachery I had witnessed; but such resolutions do not last
long with very young people, and by the time we had reached the skirts of
the wood we were talking pretty much as usual.

'I don't wish to go into the wood, Madame.

'And for what?'

'Poor mamma is buried there.'

'Is _there_ the vault?' demanded Madame eagerly.

I assented.

'My faith, curious reason; you say because poor mamma is buried there you
will not approach! Why, cheaile, what would good Monsieur Ruthyn say if
he heard such thing? You are surely not so unkain', and I am with you.
_Allons_. Let us come--even a little part of the way.'

And so I yielded, though still reluctant.

There was a grass-grown road, which we easily reached, leading to the
sombre building, and we soon arrived before it.

Madame de la Rougierre seemed rather curious. She sat down on the little
bank opposite, in her most languid pose--her head leaned upon the tips of
her fingers.

'How very sad--how solemn!' murmured Madame. 'What noble tomb! How triste,
my dear cheaile, your visit 'ere must it be, remembering a so sweet maman.
There is new inscription--is it not new?' And so, indeed, it seemed.

'I am fatigue--maybe you will read it aloud to me slowly and solemnly, my
dearest Maud?'

As I approached, I happened to look, I can't tell why, suddenly, over my
shoulder; I was startled, for Madame was grimacing after me with a vile
derisive distortion. She pretended to be seized with a fit of coughing. But
it would not do: she saw that I had detected her, and she laughed aloud.

'Come here, dear cheaile. I was just reflecting how foolish is all this
thing--the tomb--the epitaph. I think I would 'av none--no, no epitaph. We
regard them first for the oracle of the dead, and find them after only the
folly of the living. So I despise. Do you think your house of Knowl down
there is what you call haunt, my dear?'

'Why?' said I, flushing and growing pale again. I felt quite afraid of
Madame, and confounded at the suddenness of all this.

'Because Anne Wixted she says there is ghost. How dark is this place! and
so many of the Ruthyn family they are buried here--is not so? How high and
thick are the trees all round! and nobody comes near.'

And Madame rolled her eyes awfully, as if she expected to see something
unearthly, and, indeed, looked very like it herself.

'Come away, Madame,' I said, growing frightened, and feeling that if I were
once, by any accident, to give way to the panic that was gathering round
me, I should instantaneously lose all control of myself. 'Oh, come away!
do, Madame--I'm frightened.'

'No, on the contrary, sit here by me. It is very odd, you will think, ma
chêre--un goût bizarre, vraiment!--but I love very much to be near to the
dead people--in solitary place like this. I am not afraid of the dead
people, nor of the ghosts. 'Av you ever see a ghost, my dear?'

'Do, Madame, _pray_ speak of something else.'

'Wat little fool! But no, you are not afraid. I 'av seen the ghosts myself.
I saw one, for example, last night, shape like a monkey, sitting in the
corner, with his arms round his knees; very wicked, old, old man his face
was like, and white eyes so large.'

'Come away, Madame! you are trying to frighten me,' I said, in the childish
anger which accompanies fear. Madame laughed an ugly laugh, and said--

'Eh bien! little fool!--I will not tell the rest if you are really
frightened; let us change to something else.'

'Yes, yes! oh, do--pray do.'

'Wat good man is your father!'

'Very--the kindest darling. I don't know why it is, Madame, I am so afraid
of him, and never could tell him how much I love him.'

This confidential talking with Madame, strange to say, implied no
confidence; it resulted from fear--it was deprecatory. I treated her as if
she had human sympathies, in the hope that they might be generated somehow.

'Was there not a doctor from London with him a few months ago? Dr. Bryerly,
I think they call him.'

'Yes, a Doctor Bryerly, who remained a few days. Shall we begin to walk
towards home, Madame? Do, pray.'

'Immediately, cheaile; and does your father suffer much?'

'No--I think not.'

'And what then is his disease?'

'Disease! he has _no_ disease. Have you heard anything about his health,
Madame?' I said, anxiously.

'Oh no, ma foi--I have heard nothing; but if the doctor came, it was not
because he was quite well.'

'But that doctor is a doctor in theology, I fancy. I know he is a
Swedenborgian; and papa is so well, he _could_ not have come as a
physician.'

'I am very glad, ma chère, to hear; but still you know your father is
old man to have so young cheaile as you. Oh, yes--he is old man, and so
uncertain life is. 'As he made his will, my dear? Every man so rich as he,
especially so old, aught to 'av made his will.'

'There is no need of haste, Madame; it is quite time enough when his health
begins to fail.'

'But has he really compose no will?'

'I really don't know, Madame.'

'Ah, little rogue! you will not tell--but you are not such fool as you
feign yourself. No, no; you know everything. Come, tell me all about--it is
for your advantage, you know. What is in his will, and when he wrote?'

'But, Madame, I really know nothing of it. I can't say whether there is a
will or not. Let us talk of something else.'

'But, cheaile, it will not kill Monsieur Ruthyn to make his will; he will
not come to lie here a day sooner by cause of that; but if he make no will,
you may lose a great deal of the property. Would not that be pity?'

'I really don't know anything of his will. If papa has made one, he has
never spoken of it to me. I know he loves me--that is enough.'

'Ah! you are not such little goose--you do know everything, of course. Come
tell me, little obstinate, otherwise I will break your little finger. Tell
me everything.'

'I know nothing of papa's will. You don't know, Madame, how you hurt me.
Let us speak of something else.'

'You do know, and you must tell, petite dure-tête, or I will break a your
little finger.'

With which words she seized that joint, and laughing spitefully, she
twisted it suddenly back. I screamed while she continued to laugh.

'Will you tell?'

'Yes, yes! let me go,' I shrieked.

She did not release it immediately however, but continued her torture and
discordant laughter. At last she finally released my finger.

'So she is going to be good cheaile, and tell everything to her
affectionate gouvernante. What do you cry for, little fool?'

'You've hurt me very much--you have broken my finger,' I sobbed.

'Rub it and blow it and give it a kiss, little fool! What cross girl! I
will never play with you again--never. Let us go home.'

Madame was silent and morose all the way home. She would not answer my
questions, and affected to be very lofty and offended.

This did not last very long, however, and she soon resumed her wonted ways.
And she returned to the question of the will, but not so directly, and with
more art.

Why should this dreadful woman's thoughts be running so continually upon my
father's will? How could it concern her?




CHAPTER VII

_CHURCH SCARSDALE_


I think all the females of our household, except Mrs. Rusk, who was at open
feud with her and had only room for the fiercer emotions, were more or less
afraid of this inauspicious foreigner.

Mrs. Rusk would say in her confidences in my room--

'Where does she come from?--is she a French or a Swiss one, or is she a
Canada woman? I remember one of _them_ when I was a girl, and a nice limb
_she_ was, too! And who did she live with? Where was her last family? Not
one of us knows nothing about her, no more than a child; except, of course,
the Master--I do suppose he made enquiry. She's always at hugger-mugger
with Anne Wixted. I'll pack that _one_ about her business, if she doesn't
mind. Tattling and whispering eternally. It's not about her own business
she's a-talking. Madame de la Rougepot, I call her. She _does_ know how to
paint up to the ninety-nines--she does, the old cat. I beg your pardon,
Miss, but _that_ she is--a devil, and no mistake. I found her out first by
her thieving the Master's gin, that the doctor ordered him, and filling the
decanter up with water--the old villain; but she'll be found out yet, she
will; and all the maids is afraid on her. She's not right, they think--a
witch or a ghost--I should not wonder. Catherine Jones found her in her bed
asleep in the morning after she sulked with you, you know, Miss, with all
her clothes on, what-ever was the meaning; and I think she has frightened
_you,_ Miss and has you as nervous as anythink--I do,' and so forth.

It was true. I _was_ nervous, and growing rather more so; and I think this
cynical woman perceived and intended it, and was pleased. I was always
afraid of her concealing herself in my room, and emerging at night to scare
me. She began sometimes to mingle in my dreams, too--always awfully; and
this nourished, of course, the kind of ambiguous fear in which, in waking
hours, I held her.

I dreamed one night that she led me, all the time whispering something so
very fast that I could not understand her, into the library, holding
a candle in her other hand above her head. We walked on tiptoe, like
criminals at the dead of night, and stopped before that old oak cabinet
which my father had indicated in so odd a way to me. I felt that we were
about some contraband practice. There was a key in the door, which I
experienced a guilty horror at turning, she whispering in the same
unintelligible way, all the time, at my ear. I _did_ turn it; the door
opened quite softly, and within stood my father, his face white and
malignant, and glaring close in mine. He cried in a terrible voice,
'Death!' Out went Madame's candle, and at the same moment, with a scream,
I waked in the dark--still fancying myself in the library; and for an hour
after I continued in a hysterical state.

Every little incident about Madame furnished a topic of eager discussion
among the maids. More or less covertly, they nearly all hated and feared
her. They fancied that she was making good her footing with 'the Master;'
and that she would then oust Mrs. Rusk--perhaps usurp her place--and so
make a clean sweep of them all. I fancy the honest little housekeeper did
not discourage that suspicion.

About this time I recollect a pedlar--an odd, gipsified-looking man--called
in at Knowl. I and Catherine Jones were in the court when he came, and set
down his pack on the low balustrade beside the door.

All sorts of commodities he had--ribbons, cottons, silks, stockings,
lace, and even some bad jewellry; and just as he began his display--an
interesting matter in a quiet country house--Madame came upon the ground.
He grinned a recognition, and hoped 'Madamasel' was well, and 'did not look
to see _her_ here.'

'Madamasel' thanked him. 'Yes, vary well,' and looked for the first time
decidedly 'put out.'

'Wat a pretty things!' she said. 'Catherine, run and tell Mrs. Rusk. She
wants scissars, and lace too--I heard her say.'

So Catherine, with a lingering look, departed; and Madame said--

'Will you, dear cheaile, be so kind to bring here my purse, I forgot on the
table in my room; also, I advise you, bring _your_.'

Catherine returned with Mrs. Rusk. Here was a man who could tell them
something of the old Frenchwoman, at last! Slyly they dawdled over his
wares, until Madame had made her market and departed with me. But when the
coveted opportunity came, the pedlar was quite impenetrable. 'He forgot
everything; he did not believe as he ever saw the lady before. He called a
Frenchwoman, all the world over, Madamasel--that wor the name on 'em all.
He never seed her in partiklar afore, as he could bring to mind. He liked
to see 'em always, 'cause they makes the young uns buy.'

This reserve and oblivion were very provoking, and neither Mrs. Rusk nor
Catherine Jones spent sixpence with him;--he was a stupid fellow, or worse.

Of course Madame had tampered with him. But truth, like murder, will out
some day. Tom Williams, the groom, had seen her, when alone with him, and
pretending to look at his stock, with her face almost buried in his silks
and Welsh linseys, talking as fast as she could all the time, and slipping
_money_, he did suppose, under a piece of stuff in his box.

In the mean time, I and Madame were walking over the wide, peaty
sheep-walks that lie between Knowl and Church Scarsdale. Since our visit to
the mausoleum in the wood, she had not worried me so much as before. She
had been, indeed, more than usually thoughtful, very little talkative, and
troubled me hardly at all about French and other accomplishments. A walk
was a part of our daily routine. I now carried a tiny basket in my hand,
with a few sandwiches, which were to furnish our luncheon when we reached
the pretty scene, about two miles away, whither we were tending.

We had started a little too late; Madame grew unwontedly fatigued and sat
down to rest on a stile before we had got half-way; and there she intoned,
with a dismal nasal cadence, a quaint old Bretagne ballad, about a lady
with a pig's head:--

  'This lady was neither pig nor maid,
  And so she was not of human mould;
  Not of the living nor the dead.
  Her left hand and foot were warm to touch;
  Her right as cold as a corpse's flesh!
  And she would sing like a funeral bell, with a ding-dong tune.
  The pigs were afraid, and viewed her aloof;
  And women feared her and stood afar.
  She could do without sleep for a year and a day;
  She could sleep like a corpse, for a month and more.
  No one knew how this lady fed--
  On acorns or on flesh.
  Some say that she's one of the swine-possessed,
  That swam over the sea of Gennesaret.
  A mongrel body and demon soul.
  Some say she's the wife of the Wandering Jew,
  And broke the law for the sake of pork;
  And a swinish face for a token doth bear,
  That her shame is now, and her punishment coming.'

And so it went on, in a gingling rigmarole. The more anxious I seemed to go
on our way, the more likely was she to loiter. I therefore showed no signs
of impatience, and I saw her consult her watch in the course of her ugly
minstrelsy, and slyly glance, as if expecting something, in the direction
of our destination.

When she had sung to her heart's content, up rose Madame, and began to walk
onward silently. I saw her glance once or twice, as before, toward the
village of Trillsworth, which lay in front, a little to our left, and
the smoke of which hung in a film over the brow of the hill. I think she
observed me, for she enquired--

'Wat is that a smoke there?'

'That is Trillsworth, Madame; there is a railway station there.'

'Oh, le chemin de fer, so near! I did not think. Where it goes?'

I told her, and silence returned.

Church Scarsdale is a very pretty and odd scene. The slightly undulating
sheep-walk dips suddenly into a wide glen, in the lap of which, by a
bright, winding rill, rise from the sward the ruins of a small abbey, with
a few solemn trees scattered round. The crows' nests hung untenanted in the
trees; the birds were foraging far away from their roosts. The very cattle
had forsaken the place. It was solitude itself.

Madame drew a long breath and smiled.

'Come down, come down, cheaile--come down to the churchyard.'

As we descended the slope which shut out the surrounding world, and the
scene grew more sad and lonely. Madame's spirits seemed to rise.

'See 'ow many grave-stones--one, _two_ hundred. Don't you love the dead,
cheaile? I will teach you to love them. You shall see me die here to-day,
for half an hour, and be among them. That is what I love.'

We were by this time at the little brook's side, and the low churchyard
wall with a stile, reached by a couple of stepping-stones, across the
stream, immediately at the other side.

'Come, now!' cried Madame, raising her face, as if to sniff the air; 'we
are close to them. You will like them soon as I. You shall see five of
them. Ah, ça ira, ça ira, ça ira! Come cross quickily! I am Madame la
Morgue--Mrs. Deadhouse! I will present you my friends, Monsieur Cadavre and
Monsieur Squelette. Come, come, leetle mortal, let us play. Ouaah!' And
she uttered a horrid yell from her enormous mouth, and pushing her wig and
bonnet back, so as to show her great, bald head. She was laughing, and
really looked quite mad.

'No, Madame, I will not go with you,' I said, disengaging my hand with a
violent effort, receding two or three steps.

'Not enter the churchyard! Ma foi--wat mauvais goût! But see, we are
already in shade. The sun he is setting soon--where well you remain,
cheaile? I will not stay long.'

'I'll stay here,' I said, a little angrily--for I _was_ angry as well as
nervous; and through my fear was that indignation at her extravagances
which mimicked lunacy so unpleasantly, and were, I knew, designed to
frighten me.

Over the stepping-stones, pulling up her dress, she skipped with her long,
lank legs, like a witch joining a Walpurgis. Over the stile she strode, and
I saw her head wagging, and heard her sing some of her ill-omened rhymes,
as she capered solemnly, with many a grin and courtesy, among the graves
and headstones, towards the ruin.




CHAPTER VIII

_THE SMOKER_


Three years later I learned--in a way she probably little expected, and
then did not much care about--what really occurred there. I learned even
phrases and looks--for the story was related by one who had heard it
told--and therefore I venture to narrate what at the moment I neither saw
nor suspected. While I sat, flushed and nervous, upon a flat stone by the
bank of the little stream, Madame looked over her shoulder, and perceiving
that I was out of sight, she abated her pace, and turned sharply towards
the ruin which lay at her left. It was her first visit, and she was merely
exploring; but now, with a perfectly shrewd and businesslike air, turning
the corner of the building, she saw, seated upon the edge of a grave-stone,
a rather fat and flashily-equipped young man, with large, light whiskers, a
jerry hat, green cutaway coat with gilt buttons, and waistcoat and trousers
rather striking than elegant in pattern. He was smoking a short pipe, and
made a nod to Madame, without either removing it from his lips or rising,
but with his brown and rather good-looking face turned up, he eyed her with
something of the impudent and sulky expression that was habitual to it.

'Ha, Deedle, you are there! an' look so well. I am here, too, quite _a_lon;
but my friend, she wait outside the churchyard, by-side the leetle river,
for she must not think I know you--so I am come _a_lon.'

'You're a quarter late, and I lost a fight by you, old girl, this morning,'
said the gay man, and spat on the ground; 'and I wish you would not call me
Diddle. I'll call you Granny if you do.'

'Eh bien! _Dud,_ then. She is vary nice--wat you like. Slim waist, wite
teeth, vary nice eyes--dark--wat you say is best--and nice leetle foot and
ankle.'

Madame smiled leeringly.

Dud smoked on.

'Go on,' said Dud, with a nod of command.

'I am teach her to sing and play--she has such sweet voice!

There was another interval here.

'Well, that isn't much good. I hate women's screechin' about fairies and
flowers. Hang her! there's a scarecrow as sings at Curl's Divan. Such a
caterwauling upon a stage! I'd like to put my two barrels into her.'

By this time Dud's pipe was out, and he could afford to converse.

'You shall see her and decide. You will walk down the river, and pass her
by.'

'That's as may be; howsoever, it would not do, nohow, to buy a pig in a
poke, you know. And s'pose I shouldn't like her, arter all?'

Madame sneered, with a patois ejaculation of derision.

'Vary good! Then some one else will not be so 'ard to please--as you will
soon find.'

'Some one's bin a-lookin' arter her, you mean?' said the young man, with a
shrewd uneasy glance on the cunning face of the French lady.

'I mean precisely--that which I mean,' replied the lady, with a teazing
pause at the break I have marked.

'Come, old 'un, none of your d---- old chaff, if you want me to stay
here listening to you. Speak out, can't you? There's any chap as has bin
a-lookin' arter her--is there?'

'Eh bien! I suppose some.'

'Well, you _suppose,_ and _I_ suppose--we may _all_ suppose, I guess; but
that does not make a thing be, as wasn't before; and you tell me as how
the lass is kep' private up there, and will be till you're done educating
her--a precious good 'un that is!' And he laughed a little lazily, with
the ivory handle of his cane on his lip, and eyeing Madame with indolent
derision.

Madame laughed, but looked rather dangerous.

'I'm only chaffin', you know, old girl. _You_'ve bin chaffin'--w'y
shouldn't _I_? But I don't see why she can't wait a bit; and what's all the
d----d hurry for? _I_'m in no hurry. I don't want a wife on my back for a
while. There's no fellow marries till he's took his bit o' fun, and seen
life--is there! And why should I be driving with her to fairs, or to
church, or to meeting, by jingo!--for they say she's a Quaker--with a babby
on each knee, only to please them as will be dead and rotten when _I_'m
only beginning?'

'Ah, you are such charming fellow; always the same--always sensible. So
I and my friend we will walk home again, and you go see Maggie Hawkes.
Good-a-by, Dud--good-a-by.'

'Quiet, you fool!--can't ye?' said the young gentleman, with the sort of
grin that made his face vicious when a horse vexed him. 'Who ever said I
wouldn't go look at the girl? Why, you know that's just what I come here
for--don't you? Only when I think a bit, and a notion comes across me, why
shouldn't I speak out? I'm not one o' them shilly-shallies. If I like the
girl, I'll not be mug in and mug out about it. Only mind ye, I'll judge for
myself. Is that her a-coming?'

'No; it was a distant sound.'

Madame peeped round the corner. No one was approaching.

'Well, you go round that a-way, and you only look at her, you know, for she
is such fool--so nairvous.'

'Oh, is that the way with her?' said Dud, knocking out the ashes of his
pipe on a tombstone, and replacing the Turkish utensil in his pocket.
'Well, then, old lass, good-bye,' and he shook her hand. 'And, do ye see,
don't ye come up till I pass, for I'm no hand at play-acting; an' if you
called me "sir," or was coming it dignified and distant, you know, I'd be
sure to laugh, a'most, and let all out. So good-bye, d'ye see, and if you
want me again be sharp to time, mind.

From habit he looked about for his dogs, but he had not brought one. He had
come unostentatiously by rail, travelling in a third-class carriage, for
the advantage of Jack Briderly's company, and getting a world of useful
wrinkles about the steeplechase that was coming off next week.

So he strode away, cutting off the heads of the nettles with his cane as he
went; and Madame walked forth into the open space among the graves, where I
might have seen her, had I stood up, looking with the absorbed gaze of an
artist on the ruin.

In a little while, along the path, I heard the clank of a step, and the
gentleman in the green cutaway coat, sucking his cane, and eyeing me
with an offensive familiar sort of stare the while, passed me by, rather
hesitating as he did so. I was glad when he turned the corner in the little
hollow close by, and disappeared. I stood up at once, and was reassured
by a sight of Madame, not very many yards away, looking at the ruin, and
apparently restored to her right mind. The last beams of the sun were by
this time touching the uplands, and I was longing to recommence our walk
home. I was hesitating about calling to Madame, because that lady had a
certain spirit of opposition within her, and to disclose a small wish
of any sort was generally, if it lay in her power, to prevent its
accomplishment.

At this moment the gentleman in the green coat returned, approaching me
with a slow sort of swagger.

'I say, Miss, I dropped a glove close by here. May you have seen it?'

'No, sir,' I said, drawing back a little, and looking, I dare say, both
frightened and offended.

'I do think I must 'a dropped it close by your foot, Miss.'

'No, sir,' I repeated.

'No offence, Miss, but you're sure you didn't hide it?'

I was beginning to grow seriously uncomfortable.

'Don't be frightened, Miss; it's only a bit o' chaff. I'm not going to
search.'

I called aloud, 'Madame, Madame!' and he whistled through his fingers, and
shouted, 'Madame, Madame,' and added, 'She's as deaf as a tombstone, or
she'll hear that. Gi'e her my compliments, and say I said you're a beauty,
Miss;' and with a laugh and a leer he strode off.

Altogether this had not been a very pleasant excursion. Madame gobbled up
our sandwiches, commending them every now and then to me. But I had been
too much excited to have any appetite left, and very tired I was when we
reached home.

'So, there is lady coming to-morrow?' said Madame, who knew everything.
'Wat is her name? I forget.'

'Lady Knollys,' I answered.

'Lady Knollys--wat odd name! She is very young--is she not?'

'Past fifty, I think.'

'Hélas! She's vary old, then. Is she rich?'

'I don't know. She has a place in Derbyshire.'

'Derbyshire--that is one of your English counties, is it not?'

'Oh yes, Madame,' I answered, laughing. 'I have said it to you twice since
you came;' and I gabbled through the chief towns and rivers as catalogued
in my geography.

'Bah! to be sure--of course, cheaile. And is she your relation?'

'Papa's first cousin.'

'Won't you present-a me, pray?--I would so like!'

Madame had fallen into the English way of liking people with titles, as
perhaps foreigners would if titles implied the sort of power they do
generally with us.

'Certainly, Madame.'

'You will not forget?'

'Oh no.'

Madame reminded me twice, in the course of the evening, of my promise.
She was very eager on this point. But it is a world of disappointment,
influenza, and rheumatics; and next morning Madame was prostrate in her
bed, and careless of all things but flannel and James's powder.

Madame was _désolée_; but she could not raise her head. She only murmured a
question.

'For 'ow long time, dear, will Lady Knollys remain?'

'A very few days, I believe.'

'Hélas! 'ow onlucky! maybe to-morrow I shall be better Ouah! my ear. The
laudanum, dear cheaile!'

And so our conversation for that time ended, and Madame buried her head in
her old red cashmere shawl.




CHAPTER IX

_MONICA KNOLLYS_


Punctually Lady Knollys arrived. She was accompanied by her nephew, Captain
Oakley.

They arrived a little before dinner; just in time to get to their rooms and
dress. But Mary Quince enlivened my toilet with eloquent descriptions of
the youthful Captain whom she had met in the gallery, on his way to his
room, with the servant, and told me how he stopped to let her pass, and how
'he smiled so 'ansom.'

I was very young then, you know, and more childish even than my years; but
this talk of Mary Quince's interested me, I must confess, considerably. I
was painting all sort of portraits of this heroic soldier, while affecting,
I am afraid, a hypocritical indifference to her narration, and I know I was
very nervous and painstaking about my toilet that evening. When I went down
to the drawing-room, Lady Knollys was there, talking volubly to my father
as I entered--a woman not really old, but such as very young people fancy
aged--energetic, bright, saucy, dressed handsomely in purple satin, with a
good deal of lace, and a rich point--I know not how to call it--not a cap,
a sort of head-dress--light and simple, but grand withal, over her greyish,
silken hair.

Rather tall, by no means stout, on the whole a good firm figure, with
something kindly in her look. She got up, quite like a young person, and
coming quickly to meet me with a smile--

'My young cousin!' she cried, and kissed me on both cheeks. 'You know who
I am? Your cousin Monica--Monica Knollys--and very glad, dear, to see you,
though she has not set eyes on you since you were no longer than that
paper-knife. Now come here to the lamp, for I must look at you. Who is she
like? Let me see. Like your poor mother, I think, my dear; but you've the
Aylmer nose--yes--not a bad nose either, and, come I very good eyes, upon
my life--yes, certainly something of her poor mother--not a bit like you,
Austin.'

My father gave her a look as near a smile as I had seen there for a long
time, shrewd, cynical, but kindly too, and said he--

'So much the better, Monica, eh?'

'It was not for me to say--but you know, Austin, you always were an ugly
creature. How shocked and indignant the little girl looks! You must not be
vexed, you loyal little woman, with Cousin Monica for telling the truth.
Papa was and will be ugly all his days. Come, Austin, dear, tell her--is
not it so?'

'What! depose against myself! That's not English law, Monica.'

'Well, maybe not; but if the child won't believe her own eyes, how is she
to believe me? She has long, pretty hands--you have--and very nice feet
too. How old is she?'

'How old, child?' said my father to me, transferring the question.

She recurred again to my eyes.

'That is the true grey--large, deep, soft--very peculiar. Yes, dear, very
pretty--long lashes, and such bright tints! You'll be in the Book of
Beauty, my dear, when you come out, and have all the poet people writing
verses to the tip of your nose--and a very pretty little nose it is!'

I must mention here how striking was the change in my father's spirit while
talking and listening to his odd and voluble old Cousin Monica. Reflected
from bygone associations, there had come a glimmer of something, not
gaiety, indeed, but like an appreciation of gaiety. The gloom and
inflexibility were gone, and there was an evident encouragement and
enjoyment of the incessant sallies of his bustling visitor.

How morbid must have been the tendencies of his habitual solitude, I think,
appeared from the evident thawing and brightening that accompanied even
this transient gleam of human society. I was not a companion--more childish
than most girls of my age, and trained in all his whimsical ways, never to
interrupt a silence, or force his thoughts by unexpected question or remark
out of their monotonous or painful channel.

I was as much surprised at the good-humour with which he submitted to
his cousin's saucy talk; and, indeed, just then those black-panelled and
pictured walls, and that quaint, misshapen room, seemed to have exchanged
their stern and awful character for something wonderfully pleasanter to me,
notwithstanding the unpleasantness of the personal criticism to which the
plain-spoken lady chose to subject me.

Just at that moment Captain Oakley joined us. He was my first actual vision
of that awful and distant world of fashion, of whose splendours I had
already read something in the three-volumed gospel of the circulating
library.

Handsome, elegant, with features almost feminine, and soft, wavy, black
hair, whiskers and moustache, he was altogether such a knight as I had
never beheld, or even fancied, at Knowl--a hero of another species, and
from the region of the demigods. I did not then perceive that coldness of
the eye, and cruel curl of the voluptuous lip--only a suspicion, yet enough
to indicate the profligate man, and savouring of death unto death.

But I was young, and had not yet the direful knowledge of good and evil
that comes with years; and he was so very handsome, and talked in a way
that was so new to me, and was so much more charming than the well-bred
converse of the humdrum county families with whom I had occasionally
sojourned for a week at a time.

It came out incidentally that his leave of absence was to expire the
day after to-morrow. A Lilliputian pang of disappointment followed this
announcement. Already I was sorry to lose him. So soon we begin to make a
property of what pleases us.

I was shy, but not awkward. I was flattered by the attention of this
amusing, perhaps rather fascinating, young man of the world; and he plainly
addressed himself with diligence to amuse and please me. I dare say there
was more effort than I fancied in bringing his talk down to my humble
level, and interesting me and making me laugh about people whom I had never
heard of before, than I then suspected.

Cousin Knollys meanwhile was talking to papa. It was just the conversation
that suited a man so silent as habit had made him, for her frolic fluency
left him little to supply. It was totally impossible, indeed, even in our
taciturn household, that conversation should ever flag while she was among
us.

Cousin Knollys and I went into the drawing-room together, leaving the
gentlemen--rather ill-assorted, I fear--to entertain one another for a
time.

'Come here, my dear, and sit near me,' said Lady Knollys, dropping into an
easy chair with an energetic little plump, 'and tell me how you and your
papa get on. I can remember him quite a cheerful man once, and rather
amusing--yes, indeed--and now you see what a bore he is--all by shutting
himself up and nursing his whims and fancies. Are those your drawings,
dear?'

'Yes, very bad, I'm afraid; but there are a few, _better_, I think in the
portfolio in the cabinet in the hall.'

'They are by _no_ means bad, my dear; and you play, of course?'

'Yes--that is, a little--pretty well, I hope.'

'I dare say. I must hear you by-and-by. And how does your papa amuse you?
You look bewildered, dear. Well, I dare say, amusement is not a frequent
word in this house. But you must not turn into a nun, or worse, into a
puritan. What is he? A Fifth-Monarchy-man, or something--I forget; tell me
the name, my dear.'

'Papa is a Swedenborgian, I believe.'

'Yes, yes--I forgot the horrid name--a Swedenborgian, that is it. I don't
know exactly what they think, but everyone knows they are a sort of pagans,
my dear. He's not making one of _you_, dear--is he?'

'I go to church every Sunday.'

'Well, that's a mercy; Swedenborgian is such an ugly name, and besides,
they are all likely to be damned, my dear, and that's a serious
consideration. I really wish poor Austin had hit on something else; I'd
much rather have no religion, and enjoy life while I'm in it, than choose
one to worry me here and bedevil me hereafter. But some people, my dear,
have a taste for being miserable, and provide, like poor Austin, for its
gratification in the next world as well as here. Ha, ha, ha! how grave the
little woman looks! Don't you think me very wicked? You know you do; and
very likely you are right. Who makes your dresses, my dear? You _are_ such
a figure of fun!'

'Mrs. Rusk, I think, ordered _this_ dress. I and Mary Quince planned it. I
thought it very nice. We all like it very well.'

There was something, I dare say, very whimsical about it, probably very
absurd, judged at least by the canons of fashion, and old Cousin Monica
Knollys, in whose eye the London fashions were always fresh, was palpably
struck by it as if it had been some enormity against anatomy, for she
certainly laughed very heartily; indeed, there were tears on her cheeks
when she had done, and I am sure my aspect of wonder and dignity, as her
hilarity proceeded, helped to revive her merriment again and again as it
was subsiding.

'There, you mustn't be vexed with old Cousin Monica,' she cried, jumping
up, and giving me a little hug, and bestowing a hearty kiss on my forehead,
and a jolly little slap on my cheek. 'Always remember your cousin Monica is
an outspoken, wicked old fool, who likes you, and never be offended by her
nonsense. A council of three--you all sat upon it--Mrs. Rusk, you said, and
Mary Quince, and your wise self, the weird sisters; and Austin stepped in,
as Macbeth, and said, 'What is't ye do?' you all made answer together, 'A
something or other without a name!' Now, seriously, my dear, it is quite
unpardonable in Austin--your papa, I mean--to hand you over to be robed and
bedizened according to the whimsies of these wild old women--aren't they
old? If they know better, it's positively _fiendish._ I'll blow him up--I
will indeed, my dear. You know you're an heiress, and ought not to appear
like a jack-pudding.'

'Papa intends sending me to London with Madame and Mary Quince, and going
with me himself, if Doctor Bryerly says he may make the journey, and then I
am to have dresses and everything.'

'Well, that is better. And who is Doctor Bryerly--is your papa ill?'

'Ill; oh no; he always seems just the same. You don't think him
ill-_looking_ ill, I mean?' I asked eagerly and frightened.

'No, my dear, he looks very well for his time of life; but why is Doctor
What's-his-name here? Is he a physician, or a divine, or a horse-doctor?
and why is his leave asked?'

'I--I really don't understand.'

'Is he a what d'ye call'em--a Swedenborgian?'

'I believe so.'

'Oh, I see; ha, ha, ha! And so poor Austin must ask leave to go up to town.
Well, go he shall, whether his doctor likes it or not, for it would not do
to send you there in charge of your Frenchwoman, my dear. What's her name?'

'Madame de la Rougierre.'




CHAPTER X

_LADY KNOLLYS REMOVES A COVERLET_


Lady Knollys pursued her enquiries.

'And why does not Madame make your dresses, my dear? I wager a guinea the
woman's a milliner. Did not she engage to make your dresses?'

'I--I really don't know; I rather think not. She is my governess--a
finishing governess, Mrs. Rusk says.'

'Finishing fiddle! Hoity-toity! and my lady's too grand to cut out your
dresses and help to sew them? And what _does_ she do? I venture to say
she's fit to teach nothing but devilment--not that she has taught _you_
much, my dear--_yet_ at least. I'll see her, my dear; where is she? Come,
let us visit Madame. I should so like to talk to her a little.'

'But she is ill,' I answered, and all this time I was ready to cry for
vexation, thinking of my dress, which must be very absurd to elicit so much
unaffected laughter from my experienced relative, and I was only longing to
get away and hide myself before that handsome Captain returned.

'Ill! is she? what's the matter?'

'A cold--feverish and rheumatic, she says.'

'Oh, a cold; is she up, or in bed?'

'In her room, but not in bed.'

'I should so like to see her, my dear. It is not mere curiosity, I assure
you. In fact, curiosity has nothing on earth to do with it. A governess may
be a very useful or a very useless person; but she may also be about the
most pernicious inmate imaginable. She may teach you a bad accent, and
worse manners, and heaven knows what beside. Send the housekeeper, my dear,
to tell her that I am going to see her.'

'I had better go myself, perhaps,' I said, fearing a collision between Mrs.
Rusk and the bitter Frenchwoman.

'Very well, dear.'

And away I ran, not sorry somehow to escape before Captain Oakley returned.

As I went along the passage, I was thinking whether my dress could be
so very ridiculous as my old cousin thought it, and trying in vain to
recollect any evidence of a similar contemptuous estimate on the part of
that beautiful and garrulous dandy. I could not--quite the reverse, indeed.
Still I was uncomfortable and feverish--girls of my then age will easily
conceive how miserable, under similar circumstances, such a misgiving would
make them.

It was a long way to Madame's room. I met Mrs. Rusk bustling along the
passage with a housemaid.

'How is Madame?' I asked.

'Quite well, I believe,' answered the housekeeper, drily. 'Nothing the
matter that _I_ know of. She eat enough for two to-day. I wish _I_ could
sit in my room doing nothing.'

Madame was sitting, or rather reclining, in a low arm-chair, when I entered
the room, close to the fire, as was her wont, her feet extended near to the
bars, and a little coffee equipage beside her. She stuffed a book hastily
between her dress and the chair, and received me in a state of langour
which, had it not been for Mrs. Rusk's comfortable assurances, would have
frightened me.

'I hope you are better, Madame,' I said, approaching.

'Better than I deserve, my dear cheaile, sufficiently well. The people
are all so good, trying me with every little thing, like a bird; here is
café--Mrs. Rusk-a, poor woman, I try to swallow a little to please her.'

'And your cold, is it better?'

She shook her head languidly, her elbow resting on the chair, and three
finger-tips supporting her forehead, and then she made a little sigh,
looking down from the corners of her eyes, in an interesting dejection.

'Je sens des lassitudes in all the members--but I am quaite 'appy, and
though I suffer I am console and oblige des bontés, ma chère, que vous
avez tous pour moi;' and with these words she turned a languid glance of
gratitude on me which dropped on the ground.

'Lady Knollys wishes very much to see you, only for a few minutes, if you
could admit her.'

'Vous savez les malades see _never_ visitors,' she replied with a startled
sort of tartness, and a momentary energy. 'Besides, I cannot converse; je
sens de temps en temps des douleurs de tête--of head, and of the ear, the
right ear, it is parfois agony absolutely, and now it is here.'

And she winced and moaned, with her eyes closed and her hand pressed to the
organ affected.

Simple as I was, I felt instinctively that Madame was shamming. She was
over-acting; her transitions were too violent, and beside she forgot that
I knew how well she could speak English, and must perceive that she was
heightening the interest of her helplessness by that pretty tessellation
of foreign idiom. I there-fore said with a kind of courage which sometimes
helped me suddenly--

'Oh, Madame, don't you really think you might, without much inconvenience,
see Lady Knollys for a very few minutes?'

'Cruel cheaile! you know I have a pain of the ear which makes me 'orribly
suffer at this moment, and you demand me whether I will not converse
with strangers. I did not think you would be so unkain, Maud; but it is
impossible, you must see--quite impossible. I never, you _know_, refuse to
take trouble when I am able--never--_never_.'

And Madame shed some tears, which always came at call, and with her hand
pressed to her ear, said very faintly,

'Be so good to tell your friend how you see me, and how I suffer, and leave
me, Maud, for I wish to lie down for a little, since the pain will not
allow me to remain longer.'

So with a few words of comfort which could not well be refused, but I dare
say betraying my suspicion that more was made of her sufferings than need
be, I returned to the drawing-room.

'Captain Oakley has been here, my dear, and fancying, I suppose, that you
had left us for the evening, has gone to the billiard-room, I think,' said
Lady Knollys, as I entered.

That, then, accounted for the rumble and smack of balls which I had heard
as I passed the door.

'I have been telling Maud how detestably she is got up.'

'Very thoughtful of you, Monica!' said my father.

'Yes, and really, Austin, it is quite clear you ought to marry; you want
some one to take this girl out, and look after her, and who's to do it?
She's a dowdy--don't you see? Such a dust! And it _is_ really such a pity;
for she's a very pretty creature, and a clever woman could make her quite
charming.'

My father took Cousin Monica's sallies with the most wonderful good-humour.
She had always, I fancy, been a privileged person, and my father, whom we
all feared, received her jolly attacks, as I fancy the grim Front-de-Boeufs
of old accepted the humours and personalities of their jesters.

'Am I to accept this as an overture?' said my father to his voluble cousin.

'Yes, you may, but not for myself, Austin--I'm not worthy. Do you remember
little Kitty Weadon that I wanted you to marry eight-and-twenty years ago,
or more, with a hundred and twenty thousand pounds? Well, you know, she
has got ever so much now, and she is really a most amiable old thing, and
though _you_ would not have her then, she has had her second husband since,
I can tell you.'

'I'm glad I was not the first,' said my father.

'Well, they really say her wealth is absolutely immense. Her last husband,
the Russian merchant, left her everything. She has not a human relation,
and she is in the best set.'

'You were always a match-maker, Monica,' said my father, stopping, and
putting his hand kindly on hers. 'But it won't do. No, no, Monica; we must
take care of little Maud some other way.'

I was relieved. We women have all an instinctive dread of second marriages,
and think that no widower is quite above or below that danger; and I
remember, whenever my father, which indeed was but seldom, made a visit to
town or anywhere else, it was a saying of Mrs. Rusk--

'I shan't wonder, neither need you, my dear, if he brings home a young wife
with him.'

So my father, with a kind look at her, and a very tender one on me, went
silently to the library, as he often did about that hour.

I could not help resenting my Cousin Knollys' officious recommendation of
matrimony. Nothing I dreaded more than a step-mother. Good Mrs. Rusk
and Mary Quince, in their several ways, used to enhance, by occasional
anecdotes and frequent reflections, the terrors of such an intrusion. I
suppose they did not wish a revolution and all its consequences at Knowl,
and thought it no harm to excite my vigilance.

But it was impossible long to be vexed with Cousin Monica.

'You know, my dear, your father is an oddity,' she said. 'I don't mind
him--I never did. You must not. Cracky, my dear, cracky--decidedly cracky!'

And she tapped the corner of her forehead, with a look so sly and comical,
that I think I should have laughed, if the sentiment had not been so
awfully irreverent.

'Well, dear, how is our friend the milliner?'

'Madame is suffering so much from pain in her ear, that she says it would
be quite impossible to have the honour--'

'Honour--fiddle! I want to see what the woman's like. Pain in her ear, you
say? Poor thing! Well, dear, I think I can cure that in five minutes. I
have it myself, now and then. Come to my room, and we'll get the bottles.

So she lighted her candle in the lobby, and with a light and agile step
she scaled the stairs, I following; and having found the remedies, we
approached Madame's room together.

I think, while we were still at the end of the gallery, Madame heard and
divined our approach, for her door suddenly shut, and there was a fumbling
at the handle. But the bolt was out of order.

Lady Knollys tapped at the door, saying--'we'll come in, please, and see
you. I've some remedies, which I'm sure will do you good.'

There was no answer; so she opened the door, and we both entered. Madame
had rolled herself in the blue coverlet, and was lying on the bed, with her
face buried in the pillow, and enveloped in the covering.

'Perhaps she's asleep?' said Lady Knollys, getting round to the side of the
bed, and stooping over her.

Madame lay still as a mouse. Cousin Monica set down her two little vials
on the table, and, stooping again over the bed, began very gently with
her fingers to lift the coverlet that covered her face. Madame uttered
a slumbering moan, and turned more upon her face, clasping the coverlet
faster about her.

'Madame, it is Maud and Lady Knollys. We have come to relieve your ear.
Pray let me see it. She can't be asleep, she's holding the clothes so fast.
Do, pray, allow me to see it.'




CHAPTER XI

_LADY KNOLLYS SEES THE FEATURES_


Perhaps, if Madame had murmured, 'It is quite well--pray permit me to
sleep,' she would have escaped an awkwardness. But having adopted the rôle
of the exhausted slumberer, she could not consistently speak at the moment;
neither would it do by main force, to hold the coverlet about her face, and
so her presence of mind forsook her. Cousin Monica drew it back and hardly
beheld the profile of the sufferer, when her good-humoured face was lined
and shadowed with a dark curiosity and a surprise by no means pleasant. She
stood erect beside the bed, with her mouth firmly shut and drawn down at
the corners, in a sort of recoil and perturbation, looking down upon the
patient.

'So that's Madame de la Rougierre?' at length exclaimed Lady Knollys, with
a very stately disdain. I think I never saw anyone look more shocked.

Madame sat up, very flushed. No wonder, for she had been wrapped so close
in the coverlet. She did not look quite at Lady Knollys, but straight
before her, rather downward, and very luridly.

I was very much frightened and amazed, and felt on the point of bursting
into tears.

'So, Mademoiselle, you have married, it seems, since I had last the honour
of seeing you? I did not recognise Mademoiselle under her new name.'

'Yes--I _am_ married, Lady Knollys; I thought everyone who knew me had
heard of that. Very respectably married, for a person of my rank. I shall
not need long the life of a governess. There is no harm, I hope?'

'I hope not,' said Lady Knollys, drily, a little pale, and still looking
with a dark sort of wonder upon the flushed face and forehead of the
governess, who was looking downward, straight before her, very sulkily and
disconcerted.

'I suppose you have explained everything satisfactorily to Mr. Ruthyn, in
whose house I find you?' said Cousin Monica.

'Yes, certainly, everything he requires--in effect there is _nothing_ to
explain. I am ready to answer to any question. Let _him_ demand me.'

'Very good, Mademoiselle.'

'_Madame_, if you please.'

'I forgot--_Madame_--yes, I shall apprise him of everything.'

Madame turned upon her a peaked and malign look, smiling askance with a
stealthy scorn.

'For myself, I have nothing to conceal. I have always done my duty. What
fine scene about nothing absolutely--what charming remedies for a sick
person! Ma foi! how much oblige I am for these so amiable attentions!'

'So far as I can see, Mademoiselle--Madame, I mean--you don't stand very
much in need of remedies. Your ear and head don't seem to trouble you just
now. I fancy these pains may now be dismissed.'

Lady Knollys was now speaking French.

'Mi ladi has diverted my attention for a moment, but that does not prevent
that I suffer frightfully. I am, of course, only poor governess, and such
people perhaps ought not to have pain--at least to show when they suffer.
It is permitted us to die, but not to be sick.'

'Come, Maud, my dear, let us leave the invalid to her repose and to nature.
I don't think she needs my chloroform and opium at present.'

'Mi ladi is herself a physic which chases many things, and powerfully
affects the ear. I would wish to sleep, notwithstanding, and can but gain
that in silence, if it pleases mi ladi.'

'Come, my dear,' said Lady Knollys, without again glancing at the scowling,
smiling, swarthy face in the bed; 'let us leave your instructress to her
_concforto_.'

'The room smells all over of brandy, my dear--does she drink?' said Lady
Knollys, as she closed the door, a little sharply.

I am sure I looked as much amazed as I felt, at an imputation which then
seemed to me so entirely incredible.

'Good little simpleton!' said Cousin Monica, smiling in my face, and
bestowing a little kiss on my cheek; 'such a thing as a tipsy lady has
never been dreamt of in your philosophy. Well, we live and learn. Let us
have our tea in my room--the gentlemen, I dare say, have retired.'

I assented, of course, and we had tea very cosily by her bedroom fire.

'How long have you had that woman?' she asked suddenly, after, for her, a
very long rumination.

'She came in the beginning of February--nearly ten months ago--is not it?'

'And who sent her?'

'I really don't know; papa tells me so little--he arranged it all himself,
I think.'

Cousin Monica made a sound of acquiescence--her lips closed and a nod,
frowning hard at the bars.

'It _is_ very odd!' she said; 'how people _can_ be such fools!' Here there
came a little pause. 'And what sort of person is she--do you like her?'

'Very well--that is, _pretty_ well. You won't tell?--but she rather
frightens me. I'm sure she does not intend it, but somehow I am very much
afraid of her.'

'She does not beat you?' said Cousin Monica, with an incipient frenzy in
her face that made me love her.

'Oh no!'

'Nor ill-use you in any way?'

'No.'

'Upon your honour and word, Maud?'

'No, upon my honour.'

'You know I won't tell her anything you say to me; and I only want to know,
that I may put an end to it, my poor little cousin.'

'Thank you, Cousin Monica very much; but really and truly she does not
ill-use me.'

'Nor threaten you, child?'

'Well, _no_--no, she does not threaten.'

'And how the plague _does_ she frighten you, child?'

'Well, I really--I'm half ashamed to tell you--you'll laugh at me--and I
don't know that she wishes to frighten me. But there is something, is not
there, ghosty, you know, about her?'

'_Ghosty_--is there? well, I'm sure I don't know, but I suspect there's
something devilish--I mean, she seems roguish--does not she? And I really
think she has had neither cold nor pain, but has just been shamming
sickness, to keep out of my way.'

I perceived plainly enough that Cousin Monica's damnatory epithet referred
to some retrospective knowledge, which she was not going to disclose to me.

'You knew Madame before,' I said. 'Who is she?'

'She assures me she is Madame de la Rougierre, and, I suppose, in French
phrase she so calls herself,' answered Lady Knollys, with a laugh, but
uncomfortably, I thought.

'Oh, dear Cousin Monica, do tell me--is she--is she very wicked? I am so
afraid of her!'

'How should I know, dear Maud? But I do remember her face, and I don't very
much like her, and you may depend on it. I will speak to your father in the
morning about her, and don't, darling, ask me any more about her, for I
really have not very much to tell that you would care to hear, and the fact
is I _won't_ say any more about her--there!'

And Cousin Monica laughed, and gave me a little slap on the cheek, and then
a kiss.

'Well, just tell me this----'

'Well, I _won't_ tell you this, nor anything--not a word, curious little
woman. The fact is, I have little to tell, and I mean to speak to your
father, and he, I am sure, will do what is right; so don't ask me any more,
and let us talk of something pleasanter.'

There was something indescribably winning, it seemed to me, in Cousin
Monica. Old as she was, she seemed to me so girlish, compared with those
slow, unexceptionable young ladies whom I had met in my few visits at the
county houses. By this time my shyness was quite gone, and I was on the
most intimate terms with her.

'You know a great deal about her, Cousin Monica, but you won't tell me.'

'Nothing I should like better, if I were at liberty, little rogue; but you
know, after all, I don't really say whether I _do_ know anything about
her or not, or what sort of knowledge it is. But tell me what you mean by
ghosty, and all about it.'

So I recounted my experiences, to which, so far from laughing at me, she
listened with very special gravity.

'Does she write and receive many letters?'

I had seen her write letters, and supposed, though I could only recollect
one or two, that she received in proportion.

'Are _you_ Mary Quince?' asked my lady cousin.

Mary was arranging the window-curtains, and turned, dropping a courtesy
affirmatively toward her.

'You wait on my little cousin, Miss Ruthyn, don't you?'

'Yes,'m,' said Mary, in her genteelest way.

'Does anyone sleep in her room?'

'Yes,'m, _I_--please, my lady.'

'And no one else?'

'No,'m--please, my lady.'

'Not even the _governess_, sometimes?

'No, please, my lady.'

'Never, you are quite sure, my dear?' said Lady Knollys, transferring the
question to me.

'Oh, no, never,' I answered.

Cousin Monica mused gravely, I fancied even anxiously, into the grate; then
stirred her tea and sipped it, still looking into the same point of our
cheery fire.

'I like your face, Mary Quince; I'm sure you are a good creature,' she
said, suddenly turning toward her with a pleasant countenance. 'I'm very
glad you have got her, dear. I wonder whether Austin has gone to his bed
yet!'

'I think not. I am certain he is either in the library or in his private
room--papa often reads or prays alone at night, and--and he does not like
to be interrupted.'

'No, no; of course not--it will do very well in the morning.'

Lady Knollys was thinking deeply, as it seemed to me.

'And so you are afraid of goblins, my dear,' she said at last, with a faded
sort of smile, turning toward me; 'well, if _I_ were, I know what _I_
should do--so soon as I, and good Mary Quince here, had got into my
bed-chamber for the night, I should stir the fire into a good blaze, and
bolt the door--do you see, Mary Quince?--bolt the door and keep a candle
lighted all night. You'll be very attentive to her, Mary Quince, for I--I
don't think she is very strong, and she must not grow nervous: so get to
bed early, and don't leave her alone--do you see?--and--and remember to
bolt the door, Mary Quince, and I shall be sending a little Christmas-box
to my cousin, and I shan't forget you. Good-night.'

And with a pleasant courtesy Mary fluttered out of the room.




CHAPTER XII

_A CURIOUS CONVERSATION_


We each had another cup of tea, and were silent for awhile.

'We must not talk of ghosts now. You are a superstitious little woman, you
know, and you shan't be frightened.'

And now Cousin Monica grew silent again, and looking briskly around the
room, like a lady in search of a subject, her eye rested on a small oval
portrait, graceful, brightly tinted, in the French style, representing
a pretty little boy, with rich golden hair, large soft eyes, delicate
features, and a shy, peculiar expression.

'It is odd; I think I remember that pretty little sketch, very long ago. I
think I was then myself a child, but that is a much older style of dress,
and of wearing the hair, too, than I ever saw. I am just forty-nine now. Oh
dear, yes; that is a good while before I was _born_. What a strange, pretty
little boy! a mysterious little fellow. Is he quite sincere, I wonder? What
rich golden hair! It is very clever--a French artist, I dare say--and who
_is_ that little boy?'

'I never heard. Some one a hundred years ago, I dare say. But there is a
picture down-stairs I am so anxious to ask you about!'

'Oh!' murmured Lady Knollys, still gazing dreamily on the crayon.

'It is the full-length picture of Uncle Silas--I want to ask you about
him.'

At mention of his name, my cousin gave me a look so sudden and odd as to
amount almost to a start.

'Your uncle Silas, dear? It is very odd, I was just thinking of him;' and
she laughed a little.

'Wondering whether that little boy could be he.'

And up jumped active Cousin Monica, with a candle in her hand, upon a
chair, and scrutinised the border of the sketch for a name or a date.

'Maybe on the back?' said she.

And so she unhung it, and there, true enough, not on the back of the
drawing, but of the frame, which was just as good, in pen-and-ink round
Italian letters, hardly distinguishable now from the discoloured wood, we
traced--

'_Silas Aylmer Ruthyn, AEtate_ viii. 15 _May_, 1779.'

'It is very odd I should not have been told or remembered who it was.
I think if I had _ever_ been told I _should_ have remembered it. I do
recollect this picture, though, I am nearly certain. What a singular
child's face!'

And my cousin leaned over it with a candle on each side, and her hand
shading her eyes, as if seeking by aid of these fair and half-formed
lineaments to read an enigma.

The childish features defied her, I suppose; their secret was unfathomable,
for after a good while she raised her head, still looking at the portrait,
and sighed.

'A very singular face,' she said, softly, as a person might who was looking
into a coffin. 'Had not we better replace it?'

So the pretty oval, containing the fair golden hair and large eyes, the
pale, unfathomable sphinx, remounted to its nail, and the _funeste_ and
beautiful child seemed to smile down oracularly on our conjectures.

'So is the face in the large portrait--_very_ singular--more, I think, than
that--handsomer too. This is a sickly child, I think; but the full-length
is so manly, though so slender, and so handsome too. I always think him a
hero and a mystery, and they won't tell me about him, and I can only dream
and wonder.'

'He has made more people than you dream and wonder, my dear Maud. I don't
know what to make of him. He is a sort of idol, you know, of your father's,
and yet I don't think he helps him much. His abilities were singular; so
has been his misfortune; for the rest, my dear, he is neither a hero nor a
wonder. So far as I know, there are very few sublime men going about the
world.'

'You really must tell me all you know about him, Cousin Monica. Now don't
refuse.'

'But why should you care to hear? There is really nothing pleasant to
tell.'

'That is just the reason I wish it. If it were at all pleasant, it would be
quite commonplace. I like to hear of adventures, dangers, and misfortunes;
and above all, I love a mystery. You know, papa will never tell me, and I
dare not ask him; not that he is ever unkind, but, somehow, I am afraid;
and neither Mrs. Rusk nor Mary Quince will tell me anything, although I
suspect they know a good deal.'

'I don't see any good in telling you, dear, nor, to say the truth, any
great harm either.'

'No--now that's _quite_ true--no harm. There _can't_ be, for I _must_ know
it all some day, you know, and better now, and from _you_, than perhaps
from a stranger, and in a less favourable way.'

'Upon my word, it is a wise little woman; and really, that's not such bad
sense after all.'

So we poured out another cup of tea each, and sipped it very comfortably by
the fire, while Lady Knollys talked on, and her animated face helped the
strange story.

'It is not very much, after all. Your uncle Silas, you know, is living?'

'Oh yes, in Derbyshire.'

'So I see you do know something of him, sly girl! but no matter. You know
how very rich your father is; but Silas was the younger brother, and had
little more than a thousand a year. If he had not played, and did not care
to marry, it would have been quite enough--ever so much more than younger
sons of dukes often have; but he was--well, a _mauvais sujet_--you know
what that is. I don't want to say any ill of him--more than I really
know--but he was fond of his pleasures, I suppose, like other young men,
and he played, and was always losing, and your father for a long time paid
great sums for him. I believe he was really a most expensive and vicious
young man; and I fancy he does not deny that now, for they say he would
change the past if he could.

I was looking at the pensive little boy in the oval frame--aged eight
years--who was, a few springs later, 'a most expensive and vicious young
man,' and was now a suffering and outcast old one, and wondering from what
a small seed the hemlock or the wallflower grows, and how microscopic are
the beginnings of the kingdom of God or of the mystery of iniquity in a
human being's heart.

'Austin--your papa--was very kind to him--_very_; but then, you know,
he's an oddity, dear--he _is_ an oddity, though no one may have told you
before--and he never forgave him for his marriage. Your father, I suppose,
knew more about the lady than I did--I was young then--but there were
various reports, none of them pleasant, and she was not visited, and for
some time there was a complete estrangement between your father and your
uncle Silas; and it was made up, rather oddly, on the very occasion which
some people said ought to have totally separated them. Did you ever hear
anything--anything _very_ remarkable--about your uncle?'

'No, never, they would not tell me, though I am sure they know. Pray go
on.'

'Well, Maud, as I have begun, I'll complete the story, though perhaps it
might have been better untold. It was something rather shocking--indeed,
_very_ shocking; in fact, they insisted on suspecting him of having
committed a murder.'

I stared at my cousin for some time, and then at the little boy, so
refined, so beautiful, so _funeste_, in the oval frame.

'Yes, dear,' said she, her eyes following mine; 'who'd have supposed he
could ever have--have fallen under so horrible a suspicion?'

'The wretches! Of course, Uncle Silas--of course, he's innocent?' I said at
last.

'Of course, my dear,' said Cousin Monica, with an odd look; 'but you know
there are some things as bad almost to be suspected of as to have done, and
the country gentlemen chose to suspect him. They did not like him, you
see. His politics vexed them; and he resented their treatment of his
wife--though I really think, poor Silas, he did not care a pin about
her--and he annoyed them whenever he could. Your papa, you know, is very
proud of his family--_he_ never had the slightest suspicion of your uncle.'

'Oh no!' I cried vehemently.

'That's right, Maud Ruthyn,' said Cousin Monica, with a sad little smile
and a nod. 'And your papa was, you may suppose, very angry.'

'Of course he was,' I exclaimed.

'You have no idea, my dear, _how_ angry. He directed his attorney to
prosecute, by wholesale, all who had said a word affecting your uncle's
character. But the lawyers were against it, and then your uncle tried to
fight his way through it, but the men would not meet him. He was quite
slurred. Your father went up and saw the Minister. He wanted to have him a
Deputy-Lieutenant, or something, in his county. Your papa, you know, had a
very great influence with the Government. Beside his county influence, he
had two boroughs then. But the Minister was afraid, the feeling was so very
strong. They offered him something in the Colonies, but your father would
not hear of it--that would have been a banishment, you know. They would
have given your father a peerage to make it up, but he would not accept
it, and broke with the party. Except in that way--which, you know, was
connected with the reputation of the family--I don't think, considering his
great wealth, he has done very much for Silas. To say truth, however, he
was very liberal before his marriage. Old Mrs. Aylmer says he made a vow
_then_ that Silas should never have more than five hundred a year, which he
still allows him, I believe, and he permits him to live in the place. But
they say it is in a very wild, neglected state.'

'You live in the same county--have you seen it lately, Cousin Monica?'

'No, not very lately,' said Cousin Monica, and began to hum an air
abstractedly.




CHAPTER XIII

_BEFORE AND AFTER BREAKFAST_


Next morning early I visited my favourite full-length portrait in the
chocolate coat and top-boots. Scanty as had been my cousin Monica's notes
upon this dark and eccentric biography, they were everything to me. A soul
had entered that enchanted form. Truth had passed by with her torch, and a
sad light shone for a moment on that enigmatic face.

There stood the _roué_--the duellist--and, with all his faults, the hero
too! In that dark large eye lurked the profound and fiery enthusiasm of his
ill-starred passion. In the thin but exquisite lip I read the courage of
the paladin, who would have 'fought his way,' though single-handed, against
all the magnates of his county, and by ordeal of battle have purged the
honour of the Ruthyns. There in that delicate half-sarcastic tracery of the
nostril I detected the intellectual defiance which had politically isolated
Silas Ruthyn and opposed him to the landed oligarchy of his county, whose
retaliation had been a hideous slander. There, too, and on his brows and
lip, I traced the patience of a cold disdain. I could now see him as he
was--the prodigal, the hero, and the martyr. I stood gazing on him with a
girlish interest and admiration. There was indignation, there was pity,
there was hope. Some day it might come to pass that I, girl as I was, might
contribute by word or deed towards the vindication of that long-suffering,
gallant, and romantic prodigal. It was a flicker of the Joan of Arc
inspiration, common, I fancy, to many girls. I little then imagined how
profoundly and strangely involved my uncle's fate would one day become with
mine.

I was interrupted by Captain Oakley's voice at the window. He was leaning
on the window-sill, and looking in with a smile--the window being open, the
morning sunny, and his cap lifted in his hand.

'Good-morning, Miss Ruthyn. What a charming old place! quite the setting
for a romance; such timber, and this really _beautiful_ house. I _do_ so
like these white and black houses--wonderful old things. By-the-by, you
treated us very badly last night--you did, indeed; upon my word, now, it
really was too bad--running away, and drinking tea with Lady Knollys--so
she says. I really--I should not like to tell you how very savage I felt,
particularly considering how very short my time is.'

I was a shy, but not a giggling country miss. I knew I was an heiress; I
knew I was somebody. I was not the least bit in the world conceited, but
I think this knowledge helped to give me a certain sense of security and
self-possession, which might have been mistaken for dignity or simplicity.
I am sure I looked at him with a fearless enquiry, for he answered my
thoughts.

'I do really assure you, Miss Ruthyn, I am quite serious; you have no idea
how very much we have missed you.'

There was a little pause, and, like a fool, I lowered my eyes, and blushed.

'I--I was thinking of leaving today; I am so unfortunate--my leave is just
out--it is so unlucky; but I don't quite know whether my aunt Knollys will
allow me to go.'

'_I_?--certainly, my dear Charlie, _I_ don't want you at all,' exclaimed a
voice--Lady Knollys's--briskly, from an open window close by; 'what could
put that in your head, dear?'

And in went my cousin's head, and the window shut down.

'She is _such_ an oddity, poor dear Aunt Knollys,' murmured the young
man, ever so little put out, and he laughed. 'I never know quite what she
wishes, or how to please her; but she's _so_ good-natured; and when she
goes to town for the season--she does not always, you know--her house is
really very gay--you can't think----'

Here again he was interrupted, for the door opened, and Lady Knollys
entered. 'And you know, Charles,' she continued, 'it would not do to forget
your visit to Snodhurst; you wrote, you know, and you have only to-night
and to-morrow. You are thinking of nothing but that moor; I heard you
talking to the gamekeeper; I know he is--is not he, Maud, the brown man
with great whiskers, and leggings? I'm very sorry, you know, but I really
must spoil your shooting, for they do expect you at Snodhurst, Charlie; and
do not you think this window a little too much for Miss Ruthyn? Maud, my
dear, the air is very sharp; shut it down, Charles, and you'd better tell
them to get a fly for you from the town after luncheon. Come, dear,' she
said to me. 'Was not that the breakfast bell? Why does not your papa get a
gong?--it is so hard to know one bell from another.'

I saw that Captain Oakley lingered for a last look, but I did not give it,
and went out smiling with Cousin Knollys, and wondering why old ladies are
so uniformly disagreeable.

In the lobby she said, with an odd, goodnatured look--

'Don't allow any of his love-making, my dear. Charles Oakley has not a
guinea, and an heiress would be very convenient. Of course he has his eyes
about him. Charles is not by any means foolish; and I should not be at all
sorry to see him well married, for I don't think he will do much good
any other way; but there are degrees, and his ideas are sometimes very
impertinent.'

I was an admiring reader of the _Albums_, the _Souvenirs_, the _Keepsakes_,
and all that flood of Christmas-present lore which yearly irrigated
England, with pretty covers and engravings; and floods of elegant
twaddle--the milk, not destitute of water, on which the babes of literature
were then fed. On this, my genius throve. I had a little album, enriched
with many gems of original thought and observation, which I jotted down in
suitable language. Lately, turning over these faded leaves of rhyme
and prose, I lighted, under this day's date, upon the following sage
reflection, with my name appended:--

'Is there not in the female heart an ineradicable jealousy, which, if it
sways the passions of the young, rules also the _advice_ of the _aged_? Do
they not grudge to youth the sentiments (though Heaven knows how _shadowed_
with sorrow) which they can _no longer inspire_, perhaps even _experience_;
and does not youth, in turn, sigh over the envy which has _power to
blight_?

MAUD AYLMER RUTHYN.'

'He has not been making love to me,' I said rather tartly, 'and he does not
seem to me at all impertinent, and I really don't care the least whether he
goes or stays.'

Cousin Monica looked in my face with her old waggish smile, and laughed.

'You'll understand those London dandies better some day, dear Maud; they
are very well, but they like money--not to keep, of course--but still they
like it and know its value.'

At breakfast my father told Captain Oakley where he might have shooting, or
if he preferred going to Dilsford, only half an hour's ride, he might have
his choice of hunters, and find the dogs there that morning.

The Captain smiled archly at me, and looked at his aunt. There was a
suspense. I hope I did not show how much I was interested--but it would not
do. Cousin Monica was inexorable.

'Hunting, hawking, fishing, fiddle-de-dee! You know, Charlie, my dear, it
is quite out of the question. He is going to Snodhurst this afternoon, and
without quite a rudeness, in which I should be involved too, he really
can't--you know you can't, Charles! and--and he _must_ go and keep his
engagement.'

So papa acquiesced with a polite regret, and hoped another time.

'Oh, leave all that to me. When you want him, only write me a note, and
I'll send him or bring him if you let me. I always know where to find
him--don't I, Charlie?--and we shall be only too happy.'

Aunt Monica's influence with her nephew was special, for she 'tipped' him
handsomely every now and then, and he had formed for himself agreeable
expectations, besides, respecting her will. I felt rather angry at his
submitting to this sort of tutelage, knowing nothing of its motive; I was
also disgusted by Cousin Monica's tyranny.

So soon as he had left the room, Lady Knollys, not minding me, said briskly
to papa, 'Never let that young man into your house again. I found him
making speeches, this morning, to little Maud here; and he really has not
two pence in the world--it is amazing impudence--and you know such absurd
things do happen.'

'Come, Maud, what compliments did he pay you?' asked my father.

I was vexed, and therefore spoke courageously. 'His compliments were not to
me; they were all to the house,' I said, drily.

'Quite as it should be--the house, of course; it is that he's in love
with,' said Cousin Knollys.

  ''Twas on a widow's jointure land,
  The archer, Cupid, took his stand.'

'Hey! I don't quite understand,' said my father, slily.

'Tut! Austin; you forget Charlie is my nephew.'

'So I did,' said my father.

'Therefore the literal widow in this case _can_ have no interest in view
but one, and that is yours and Maud's. I wish him well, but he shan't put
my little cousin and her expectations into his empty pocket--_not_ a bit of
it. And _there's_ another reason, Austin, why you should marry--you have no
eye for these things, whereas a clever _woman_ would see at a glance and
prevent mischief.'

'So she would,' acquiesced my father, in his gloomy, amused way. 'Maud, you
must try to be a clever woman.'

'So she will in her time, but that is not come yet; and I tell you, Austin
Ruthyn, if you won't look about and marry somebody, somebody may possibly
marry you.'

'You were always an oracle, Monica; but _here_ I am lost in total
perplexity,' said my father.

'Yes; sharks sailing round you, with keen eyes and large throats; and you
have come to the age precisely when men _are_ swallowed up alive like
Jonah.'

'Thank you for the parallel, but you know that was not a happy union, even
for the fish, and there was a separation in a few days; not that I mean to
trust to that; but there's no one to throw me into the jaws of the monster,
and I've no notion of jumping there; and the fact is, Monica, there's no
monster at all.'

'I'm not so sure.'

'But I'm quite sure,' said my father, a little drily. 'You forget how old
I am, and how long I've lived alone--I and little Maud;' and he smiled and
smoothed my hair, and, I thought, sighed.

'No one is ever too old to do a foolish thing,' began Lady Knollys.

'Nor to say a foolish thing, Monica. This has gone on too long. Don't you
see that little Maud here is silly enough to be frightened at your fun.'

So I was, but I could not divine how he guessed it.

'And well or ill, wisely or madly, I'll _never_ marry; so put that out of
your head.'

This was addressed rather to me, I think, than to Lady Knollys, who smiled
a little waggishly on me, and said--

'To be sure, Maud; maybe you are right; a stepdame is a risk, and I ought
to have asked you first what you thought of it; and upon my honour,' she
continued merrily but kindly, observing that my eyes, I know not exactly
from what feeling, filled with tears, 'I'll never again advise your papa to
marry, unless you first tell me you wish it.'

This was a great deal from Lady Knollys, who had a taste for advising her
friends and managing their affairs.

'I've a great respect for instinct. I believe, Austin, it is truer than
reason, and yours and Maud's are both against me, though I know I have
reason on my side.'

My father's brief wintry smile answered, and Cousin Monica kissed me, and
said--

'I've been so long my own mistress that I sometimes forget there are such
things as fear and jealousy; and are you going to your governess, Maud?'




CHAPTER XIV

_ANGRY WORDS_


I was going to my governess, as Lady Knollys said; and so I went. The
undefinable sense of danger that smote me whenever I beheld that woman had
deepened since last night's occurrence, and was taken out of the region
of instinct or prepossession by the strange though slight indications of
recognition and abhorrence which I had witnessed in Lady Knollys on that
occasion.

The tone in which Cousin Monica had asked, 'are you going to your
governess?' and the curious, grave, and anxious look that accompanied the
question, disturbed me; and there was something odd and cold in the tone as
if a remembrance had suddenly chilled her. The accent remained in my ear,
and the sharp brooding look was fixed before me as I glided up the broad
dark stairs to Madame de la Rougierre's chamber.

She had not come down to the school-room, as the scene of my studies was
called. She had decided on having a relapse, and accordingly had not made
her appearance down-stairs that morning. The gallery leading to her room
was dark and lonely, and I grew more nervous as I approached; I paused at
the door, making up my mind to knock.

But the door opened suddenly, and, like a magic-lantern figure, presented
with a snap, appeared close before my eyes the great muffled face, with the
forbidding smirk, of Madame de la Rougierre.

'Wat you mean, my dear cheaile?' she inquired with a malevolent shrewdness
in her eyes, and her hollow smile all the time disconcerting me more even
than the suddenness of her appearance; 'wat for you approach so softly? I
do not sleep, you see, but you feared, perhaps, to have the misfortune of
wakening me, and so you came--is it not so?--to leesten, and looke in very
gentily; you want to know how I was. Vous êtes bien aimable d'avoir pensé
à moi. Bah!' she cried, suddenly bursting through her irony. 'Wy could not
Lady Knollys come herself and leesten to the keyhole to make her report?
Fi donc! wat is there to conceal? Nothing. Enter, if you please. Every one
they are welcome!' and she flung the door wide, turned her back upon me,
and, with an ejaculation which I did not understand, strode into the room.

'I did not come with any intention, Madame, to pry or to intrude--you
don't think so--you _can't_ think so--you can't possibly mean to insinuate
anything so insulting!'

I was very angry, and my tremors had all vanished now.

'No, not for _you_, dear cheaile; I was thinking to miladi Knollys, who,
without cause, is my enemy. Every one has enemy; you will learn all that so
soon as you are little older, and without cause she is mine. Come, Maud,
speak a the truth--was it not miladi Knollys who sent you here doucement,
doucement, so quaite to my door--is it not so, little rogue?'

Madame had confronted me again, and we were now standing in the middle of
her floor.

I indignantly repelled the charge, and searching me for a moment with her
oddly-shaped, cunning eyes, she said--

'That is good cheaile, you speak a so direct--I like that, and am glad to
hear; but, my dear Maud, that woman----'

'Lady Knollys is papa's cousin,' I interposed a little gravely.

'She does hate a me so, you av no idea. She as tryed to injure me several
times, and would employ the most innocent person, unconsciously you know,
my dear, to assist her malice.'

Here Madame wept a little. I had already discovered that she could shed
tears whenever she pleased. I have heard of such persons, but I never met
another before or since.

Madame was unusually frank--no one ever knew better when to be candid. At
present I suppose she concluded that Lady Knollys would certainly relate
whatever she knew concerning her before she left Knowl; and so Madame's
reserves, whatever they might be, were dissolving, and she growing
childlike and confiding.

'Et comment va monsieur votre père aujourd'hui?'

'Very well,' I thanked her.

'And how long miladi Knollys her visit is likely to be?'

'I could not say exactly, but for some days.'

'Eh bien, my dear cheaile, I find myself better this morning, and we must
return to our lessons. Je veux m'habiller, ma chère Maud; you will wait me
in the school-room.'

By this time Madame, who, though lazy, could make an effort, and was
capable of getting into a sudden hurry, had placed herself before her
dressing-table, and was ogling her discoloured and bony countenance in the
glass.

'Wat horror! I am so pale. Quel ennui! wat bore! Ow weak av I grow in two
three days!'

And she practised some plaintive, invalid glances into the mirror. But on a
sudden there came a little sharp inquisitive frown as she looked over the
frame of the glass, upon the terrace beneath. It was only a glance, and she
sat down languidly in her arm-chair to prepare, I suppose, for the fatigues
of the toilet.

My curiosity was sufficiently aroused to induce me to ask--

'But why, Madame, do you fancy that Lady Knollys dislikes you?'

''Tis not fancy, my dear Maud. Ah ha, no! Mais c'est toute une
histoire--too tedious to tell now--some time maybe--and you will learn when
you are little older, the most violent hatreds often they are the most
without cause. But, my dear cheaile, the hours they are running from us,
and I must dress. Vite, vite! so you run away to the school-room, and I
will come after.'

Madame had her dressing-case and her mysteries, and palpably stood in need
of repairs; so away I went to my studies. The room which we called the
school-room was partly beneath the floor of Madame's bed-chamber, and
commanded the same view; so, remembering my governess's peering glance from
her windows, I looked out, and saw Cousin Monica making a brisk promenade
up and down the terrace-walk. Well, that was quite enough to account for
it. I had grown very curious, and I resolved when our lessons were over to
join her and make another attempt to discover the mystery.

As I sat over my books, I fancied I heard a movement outside the door. I
suspected that Madame was listening. I waited for a time, expecting to see
the door open, but she did not come; so I opened it suddenly myself, but
Madame was not on the threshold nor on the lobby. I heard a rustling,
however, and on the staircase over the banister I saw the folds of her silk
dress as she descended.

She is going, I thought, to seek an interview with Lady Knollys. She
intends to propitiate that dangerous lady; so I amused some eight or ten
minutes in watching Cousin Monica's quick march and right-about face upon
the parade-ground of the terrace. But no one joined her.

'She is certainly talking to papa,' was my next and more probable
conjecture. Having the profoundest distrust of Madame, I was naturally
extremely jealous of the confidential interviews in which deceit and malice
might make their representations plausibly and without answer.

'Yes, I'll run down and see--see _papa_; she shan't tell lies behind my
back, horrid woman!'

At the study-door I knocked, and forthwith entered. My father was sitting
near the window, his open book before him, Madame standing at the
other side of the table, her cunning eyes bathed in tears, and her
pocket-handkerchief pressed to her mouth. Her eyes glittered stealthily on
me for an instant: she was sobbing--_désolée_, in fact--that grim grenadier
lady, and her attitude was exquisitely dejected and timid. But she was,
notwithstanding, reading closely and craftily my father's face. He was not
looking at her, but rather upward toward the ceiling, reflectively leaning
on his hand, with an expression, not angry, but rather surly and annoyed.

'I ought to have heard of this before, Madame,' my father was saying as I
came in; 'not that it would have made any difference--not the least; mind
that. But it was the kind of thing that I ought to have heard, and the
omission was not strictly right.'

Madame, in a shrill and lamentable key, opened her voluble reply, but was
arrested by a nod from my father, who asked me if I wanted anything.

'Only--only that I was waiting in the school-room for Madame, and did not
know where she was.'

'Well, she is here, you see, and will join you up-stairs in a few minutes.'

So back I went again, huffed, angry, and curious, and sat back in my chair
with a clouded countenance, thinking very little about lessons.

When Madame entered, I did not lift my head or eyes.

'Good cheaile! reading,' said she, as she approached briskly and reassured.

'No,' I answered tartly; 'not good, nor a child either; I'm not reading,
I've been thinking.'

'Très-bien!' she said, with an insufferable smile, 'thinking is very good
also; but you look unhappy--very, poor cheaile. Take care you are not grow
jealous for poor Madame talking sometime to your papa; you must not, little
fool. It is only for a your good, my dear Maud, and I had no objection you
should stay.'

'_You_! Madame!' I said loftily. I was very angry, and showed it through my
dignity, to Madame's evident satisfaction.

'No--it was your papa, Mr. Ruthyn, who weesh to speak alone; for me I do
not care; there was something I weesh to tell him. I don't care who know,
but Mr. Ruthyn he is deeferent.'

I made no remark.

'Come, leetle Maud, you are not to be so cross; it will be much better you
and I to be good friends together. Why should a we quarrel?--wat nonsense!
Do you imagine I would anywhere undertake a the education of a young person
unless I could speak with her parent?--wat folly! I would like to be your
friend, however, my poor Maud, if you would allow--you and I together--wat
you say?'

'People grow to be friends by liking, Madame, and liking comes of itself,
not by bargain; I like every one who is kind to me.'

'And so I. You are like me in so many things, my dear Maud! Are you quaite
well to-day? I think you look fateague; so I feel, too, vary tire. I think
we weel put off the lessons to to-morrow. Eh? and we will come to play la
grace in the garden.'

Madame was plainly in a high state of exultation. Her audience had
evidently been satisfactory, and, like other people, when things went well,
her soul lighted up into a sulphureous good-humour, not very genuine nor
pleasant, but still it was better than other moods.

I was glad when our calisthenics were ended, and Madame had returned to her
apartment, so that I had a pleasant little walk with Cousin Monica.

We women are persevering when once our curiosity is roused, but she gaily
foiled mine, and, I think, had a mischievous pleasure in doing so. As we
were going in to dress for dinner, however, she said, quite gravely--

'I am sorry, Maud, I allowed you to see that I have any unpleasant
impressions about that governess lady. I shall be at liberty some day to
explain all about it, and, indeed, it will be enough to tell your father,
whom I have not been able to find all day; but really we are, perhaps,
making too much of the matter, and I cannot say that I know anything
against Madame that is conclusive, or--or, indeed, at all; but that there
are reasons, and--you must not ask any more--no, you must not.'

That evening, while I was playing the overture to Cenerentola, for the
entertainment of my cousin, there arose from the tea-table, where she and
my father were sitting, a spirited and rather angry harangue from Lady
Knollys' lips; I turned my eyes from the music towards the speakers; the
overture swooned away with a little hesitating babble into silence, and I
listened.

Their conversation had begun under cover of the music which I was making,
and now they were too much engrossed to perceive its discontinuance. The
first sentence I heard seized my attention; my father had closed the book
he was reading, upon his finger, and was leaning back in his chair, as he
used to do when at all angry; his face was a little flushed, and I knew the
fierce and glassy stare which expressed pride, surprise, and wrath.

'Yes, Lady Knollys, there's an animus; I know the spirit you speak in--it
does you no honour,' said my father.

'And I know the spirit _you_ speak in, the spirit of _madness_,' retorted
Cousin Monica, just as much in earnest. 'I can't conceive how you _can_ be
so _demented_, Austin. What has perverted you? are you _blind_?'

'_You_ are, Monica; your own unnatural prejudice--_unnatural_ prejudice,
blinds you. What is it all?--_nothing_. Were I to act as you say, I should
be a _coward_ and a traitor. I see, I _do_ see, all that's real. I'm no
Quixote, to draw my sword on illusions.'

'There should be no halting here. How _can_ you--do you ever _think_? I
wonder if you can breathe. I feel as if the evil one were in the house.'

A stern, momentary frown was my father's only answer, as he looked fixedly
at her.

'People need not nail up horseshoes and mark their door-stones with charms
to keep the evil spirit out,' ran on Lady Knollys, who looked pale and
angry, in her way, 'but you open your door in the dark and invoke unknown
danger. How can you look at that child that's--she's _not_ playing,' said
Knollys, abruptly stopping.

My father rose, muttering to himself, and cast a lurid glance at me, as he
went in high displeasure to the door. Cousin Monica, now flushed a little,
glanced also silently at me, biting the tip of her slender gold cross, and
doubtful how much I had heard.

My father opened the door suddenly, which he had just closed, and looking
in, said, in a calmer tone--

'Perhaps, Monica, you would come for a moment to the study; I'm sure you
have none but kindly feelings towards me and little Maud, there; and
I thank you for your good-will; but you must see other things more
reasonably, and I think you will.'

Cousin Monica got up silently and followed him, only throwing up her eyes
and hands as she did so, and I was left alone, wondering and curious more
than ever.




CHAPTER XV

_A WARNING_


I sat still, listening and wondering, and wondering and listening; but
I ought to have known that no sound could reach me where I was from my
father's study. Five minutes passed and they did not return. Ten, fifteen.
I drew near the fire and made myself comfortable in a great arm-chair,
looking on the embers, but not seeing all the scenery and _dramatis
personae_ of my past life or future fortunes, in their shifting glow,
as people in romances usually do; but fanciful castles and caverns in
blood-red and golden glare, suggestive of dreamy fairy-land, salamanders,
sunsets, and palaces of fire-kings, and all this partly shaping and partly
shaped by my fancy, and leading my closing eyes and drowsy senses off into
dream-land. So I nodded and dozed, and sank into a deep slumber, from which
I was roused by the voice of my cousin Monica. On opening my eyes, I saw
nothing but Lady Knollys' face looking steadily into mine, and expanding
into a good-natured laugh as she watched the vacant and lack-lustre stare
with which I returned her gaze.

'Come, dear Maud, it is late; you ought to have been in your bed an hour
ago.'

Up I stood, and so soon as I had begun to hear and see aright, it struck me
that Cousin Monica was more grave and subdued than I had seen her.

'Come, let us light our candles and go together.'

Holding hands, we ascended, I sleepy, she silent; and not a word was spoken
until we reached my room. Mary Quince was in waiting, and tea made.

'Tell her to come back in a few minutes; I wish to say a word to you,' said
Lady Knollys.

The maid accordingly withdrew.

Lady Knollys' eyes followed her till she closed the door behind her.

'I'm going in the morning.'

'So soon!'

'Yes, dear; I could not stay; in fact, I should have gone tonight, but it
was too late, and I leave instead in the morning.'

'I am so sorry--so _very_ sorry,' I exclaimed, in honest disappointment,
and the walls seemed to darken round me, and the monotony of the old
routine loomed more terrible in prospect.

'So am I, dear Maud.'

'But can't you stay a little longer; _won't_ you?'

'No, Maud; I'm vexed with Austin--very much vexed with your father; in
short, I can't conceive anything so entirely preposterous, and dangerous,
and insane as his conduct, now that his eyes are quite opened, and I must
say a word to you before I go, and it is just this:--you must cease to be a
mere child, you must try and be a woman, Maud: now don't be frightened
or foolish, but hear me out. That woman--what does she call
herself--Rougierre? I have reason to believe is--in fact, from
circumstances, _must_ be your enemy; you will find her very deep, daring,
and unscrupulous, I venture to say, and you can't be too much on your
guard. Do you quite understand me, Maud?'

'I do,' said I, with a gasp, and my eyes fixed on her with a terrified
interest, as if on a warning ghost.

'You must bridle your tongue, mind, and govern your conduct, and command
even your features. It is hard to practise reserve; but you must--you must
be secret and vigilant. Try and be in appearance just as usual; don't
quarrel; tell her nothing, if you do happen to know anything, of your
father's business; be always on your guard when with her, and keep your eye
upon her everywhere. Observe everything, disclose nothing--do you see?'

'Yes,' again I whispered.

'You have good, honest servants about you, and, thank God, they don't like
her. But you must not repeat to them one word I am now saying to you.
Servants are fond of dropping hints, and letting things ooze out in that
way, and in their quarrels with her would compromise you--you understand
me?'

'I do,' I sighed, with a wild stare.

'And--and, Maud, don't let her meddle with your food.'

Cousin Monica gave me a pale little nod, and looked away.

I could only stare at her; and under my breath I uttered an ejaculation of
terror.

'Don't be so frightened; you must not be foolish; I only wish you to be
upon your guard. I have my suspicions, but I may be quite wrong; your
father thinks I am a fool; perhaps I am--perhaps not; maybe he may come to
think as I do. But you must not speak to him on the subject; he's an
odd man, and never did and never will act wisely, when his passions and
prejudices are engaged.'

'Has she ever committed any great crime?' I asked, feeling as if I were on
the point of fainting.

'No, dear Maud, I never said anything of the kind; don't be so frightened:
I only said I have formed, from something I know, an ill opinion of her;
and an unprincipled person, under temptation, is capable of a great deal.
But no matter how wicked she may be, you may defy her, simply by assuming
her to be so, and acting with caution; she is cunning and selfish, and
she'll do nothing desperate. But I would give her no opportunity.'

'Oh, dear! Oh, Cousin Monica, don't leave me.'

'My dear, I _can't_ stay; your papa and I--we've had a quarrel. I know
I'm right, and he's wrong, and he'll come to see it soon, if he's left to
himself, and then all will be right. But just now he misunderstands me, and
we've not been civil to one another. I could not think of staying, and he
would not allow you to come away with me for a short visit, which I wished.
It won't last, though; and I do assure you, my dear Maud, I am quite happy
about you now that you are quite on your guard. Just act respecting that
person as if she were capable of any treachery, without showing distrust or
dislike in your manner, and nothing will remain in her power; and write to
me whenever you wish to hear from me, and if I can be of any real use, I
don't care, I'll come: so there's a wise little woman; do as I've said, and
depend upon it everything will go well, and I'll contrive before long to
get that nasty creature away.'

Except a kiss and a few hurried words in the morning when she was leaving,
and a pencilled farewell for papa, there was nothing more from Cousin
Monica for some time.

Knowl was dark again--darker than ever. My father, gentle always to me, was
now--perhaps it was contrast with his fitful return to something like the
world's ways, during Lady Knollys' stay--more silent, sad, and isolated
than before. Of Madame de la Rougierre I had nothing at first particular to
remark. Only, reader, if you happen to be a rather nervous and very young
girl, I ask you to conceive my fears and imaginings, and the kind of misery
which I was suffering. Its intensity I cannot now even myself recall. But
it overshadowed me perpetually--a care, an alarm. It lay down with me at
night and got up with me in the morning, tinting and disturbing my dreams,
and making my daily life terrible. I wonder now that I lived through
the ordeal. The torment was secret and incessant, and kept my mind in
unintermitting activity.

Externally things went on at Knowl for some weeks in the usual routine.
Madame was, so far as her unpleasant ways were concerned, less tormenting
than before, and constantly reminded me of 'our leetle vow of friendship,
you remember, dearest Maud!' and she would stand beside me, and looked from
the window with her bony arm round my waist, and my reluctant hand drawn
round in hers; and thus she would smile, and talk affectionately and even
playfully; for at times she would grow quite girlish, and smile with
her great carious teeth, and begin to quiz and babble about the young
'faylows,' and tell bragging tales of her lovers, all of which were
dreadful to me.

She was perpetually recurring, too, to the charming walk we had had
together to Church Scarsdale, and proposing a repetition of that delightful
excursion, which, you may be sure, I evaded, having by no means so
agreeable a recollection of our visit.

One day, as I was dressing to go out for a walk, in came good Mrs. Rusk,
the housekeeper, to my room.

'Miss Maud, dear, is not that too far for you? It is a long walk to Church
Scarsdale, and you are not looking very well.'

'To Church Scarsdale?' I repeated; 'I'm not going to Church Scarsdale; who
said I was going to Church Scarsdale? There is nothing I should so much
dislike.'

'Well, I never!' exclaimed she. 'Why, there's old Madame's been down-stairs
with me for fruit and sandwiches, telling me you were longing to go to
Church Scarsdale----'

'It's quite untrue,' I interrupted. 'She knows I hate it.'

'She does?' said Mrs. Rusk, quietly; 'and you did not tell her nothing
about the basket? Well--if there isn't a story! Now what may she be
after--what is it--what _is_ she driving at?'

'I can't tell, but I won't go.'

'No, of course, dear, you won't go. But you may be sure there's some scheme
in her old head. Tom Fowkes says she's bin two or three times to drink tea
at Farmer Gray's--now, could it be she's thinking to marry him?' And Mrs.
Rusk sat down and laughed heartily, ending with a crow of derision.

'To think of a young fellow like that, and his wife, poor thing, not dead a
year--maybe she's got money?'

'I don't know--I don't care--perhaps, Mrs. Rusk, you mistook Madame. I will
go down; I am going out.'

Madame had a basket in her hand. She held it quietly by her capacious
skirt, at the far side, and made no allusion to the preparation, neither to
the direction in which she proposed walking, and prattling artlessly and
affectionately she marched by my side.

Thus we reached the stile at the sheep-walk, and then I paused.

'Now, Madame, have not we gone far enough in this direction?--suppose we
visit the pigeon-house in the park?'

'Wat folly! my dear a Maud--you cannot walk so far.'

'Well, towards home, then.'

'And wy not a this way? We ave not walk enough, and Mr. Ruthyn he will not
be pleased if you do not take proper exercise. Let us walk on by the path,
and stop when you like.'

'Where do you wish to go, Madame?'

'Nowhere particular--come along; don't be fool, Maud.'

'This leads to Church Scarsdale.'

'A yes indeed! wat sweet place! bote we need not a walk all the way to
there.'

'I'd rather not walk outside the grounds to-day, Madame.'

'Come, Maud, you shall not be fool--wat you mean, Mademoiselle?' said the
stalworth lady, growing yellow and greenish with an angry mottling, and
accosting me very gruffly.

'I don't care to cross the stile, thank you, Madame. I shall remain at this
side.'

'You shall do wat I tell you!' exclaimed she.

'Let go my arm, Madame, you hurt me,' I cried.

She had griped my arm very firmly in her great bony hand, and seemed
preparing to drag me over by main force.

'Let me go,' I repeated shrilly, for the pain increased.

'La!' she cried with a smile of rage and a laugh, letting me go and shoving
me backward at the same time, so that I had a rather dangerous tumble.

I stood up, a good deal hurt, and very angry, notwithstanding my fear of
her.

'I'll ask papa if I am to be so ill-used.'

'Wat av I done?' cried Madame, laughing grimly from her hollow jaws; I did
all I could to help you over--'ow could I prevent you to pull back and
tumble if you would do so? That is the way wen you petites Mademoiselles
are naughty and hurt yourself they always try to make blame other people.
Tell a wat you like--you think I care?'

'Very well, Madame.'

'Are a you coming?'

'No.'

She looked steadily in my face and very wickedly. I gazed at her as with
dazzled eyes--I suppose as the feathered prey do at the owl that glares on
them by night. I neither moved back nor forward, but stared at her quite
helplessly.

'You are nice pupil--charming young person! So polite, so obedient, so
amiable! I will walk towards Church Scarsdale,' she continued, suddenly
breaking through the conventionalism of her irony, and accosting me
in savage accents. 'You weel stay behind if you dare. I tell you to
accompany--do you hear?'

More than ever resolved against following her, I remained where I was,
watching her as she marched fiercely away, swinging her basket as though in
imagination knocking my head off with it.

She soon cooled, however, and looking over her shoulder, and seeing me
still at the other side of the stile, she paused, and beckoned me grimly
to follow her. Seeing me resolutely maintain my position, she faced about,
tossed her head, like an angry beast, and seemed uncertain for a while what
course to take with me.

She stamped and beckoned furiously again. I stood firm. I was very much
frightened, and could not tell to what violence she might resort in her
exasperation. She walked towards me with an inflamed countenance, and a
slight angry wagging of the head; my heart fluttered, and I awaited the
crisis in extreme trepidation. She came close, the stile only separating
us, and stopped short, glaring and grinning at me like a French grenadier
who has crossed bayonets, but hesitates to close.




CHAPTER XVI

_DOCTOR BRYERLY LOOKS IN_


What had I done to excite this ungovernable fury? We had often before had
such small differences, and she had contented herself with being sarcastic,
teasing, and impertinent.

'So, for future you are gouvernante and I the cheaile for you to
command--is not so?--and you must direct where we shall walk. Très-bien!
we shall see; Monsieur Ruthyn he shall know everything. For me I do not
care--not at all--I shall be rather pleased, on the contrary. Let him
decide. If I shall be responsible for the conduct and the health of
Mademoiselle his daughter, it must be that I shall have authority to direct
her wat she must do--it must be that she or I shall obey. I ask only witch
shall command for the future--voilà tout!'

I was frightened, but resolute--I dare say I looked sullen and
uncomfortable. At all events, she seemed to think she might possibly
succeed by wheedling; so she tried coaxing and cajoling, and patted my
cheek, and predicted that I would be 'a good cheaile,' and not 'vex poor
Madame,' but do for the future 'wat she tell a me.'

She smiled her wide wet grin, smoothed my hand, and patted my cheek, and
would in the excess of her conciliatory paroxysm have kissed me; but I
withdrew, and she commented only with a little laugh, and a 'Foolish little
thing! but you will be quite amiable just now.'

'Why, Madame,' I asked, suddenly raising my head and looking her straight
in the face, 'do you wish me to walk to Church Scarsdale so particularly
to-day?'

She answered my steady look with a contracted gaze and an unpleasant frown.

'Wy do I?--I do not understand a you; there is _no_ particular day--wat
folly! Wy I like Church Scarsdale? Well, it is such pretty place. There is
all! Wat leetle fool! I suppose you think I want to keel a you and bury you
in the churchyard?'

And she laughed, and it would not have been a bad laugh for a ghoul.

'Come, my dearest Maud, you are not a such fool to say, if _you_ tell me me
go thees a way, I weel go that; and if you say, go that a way, I weel go
thees--you are rasonable leetle girl--come along--_alons donc_--we shall av
soche agreeable walk--weel a you?'

But I was immovable. It was neither obstinacy nor caprice, but a profound
fear that governed me. I was then afraid--yes, _afraid_. Afraid of _what_?
Well, of going with Madame de la Rougierre to Church Scarsdale that day.
That was all. And I believe that instinct was true.

She turned a bitter glance toward Church Scarsdale, and bit her lip. She
saw that she must give it up. A shadow hung upon her drab features. A
little scowl--a little sneer--wide lips compressed with a false smile, and
a leaden shadow mottling all. Such was the countenance of the lady who only
a minute or two before had been smiling and murmuring over the stile so
amiably with her idiomatic 'blarney,' as the Irish call that kind of
blandishment.

There was no mistaking the malignant disappointment that hooked and warped
her features--my heart sank--a tremendous fear overpowered me. Had she
intended poisoning me? What was in that basket? I looked in her dreadful
face. I felt for a minute quite frantic. A feeling of rage with my father,
with my Cousin Monica, for abandoning me to this dreadful rogue, took
possession of me, and I cried, helplessly wringing my hands--

'Oh! it is a shame--it is a shame--it is a shame!'

The countenance of the gouvernante relaxed. I think she in turn was
frightened at my extreme agitation. It might have worked unfavourably with
my father.

'Come, Maud, it is time you should try to control your temper. You shall
not walk to Church Scarsdale if you do not like--I only invite. _There_!
It is quite as you please, where we shall walk then? Here to the
peegeon-house? I think you say. Tout bien! Remember I concede you
everything. Let us go.'

We went, therefore, towards the pigeon-house, through the forest trees; I
not speaking as the children in the wood did with their sinister conductor,
but utterly silent and scared; she silent also, meditating, and sometimes
with a sharp side-glance gauging my progress towards equanimity. Her own
was rapid; for Madame was a philosopher, and speedily accommodated herself
to circumstances. We had not walked a quarter of an hour when every trace
of gloom had left her face, which had assumed its customary brightness, and
she began to sing with a spiteful hilarity as we walked forward, and indeed
seemed to be approaching one of her waggish, frolicsome moods. But her fun
in these moods was solitary. The joke, whatever it was, remained in her
own keeping. When we approached the ruined brick tower--in old times a
pigeon-house--she grew quite frisky, and twirled her basket in the air, and
capered to her own singing.

Under the shadow of the broken wall, and its ivy, she sat down with a
frolicsome _plump_, and opened her basket, inviting me to partake, which
I declined. I must do her justice, however, upon the suspicion of poison,
which she quite disposed of by gobbling up, to her own share, everything
which the basket contained.

The reader is not to suppose that Madame's cheerful demeanour indicated
that I was forgiven. Nothing of the kind. One syllable more, on our walk
home, she addressed not to me. And when we reached the terrace, she said--

'You will please, Maud, remain for two--three minutes in the Dutch garden,
while I speak with Mr. Ruthyn in the study.'

This was spoken with a high head and an insufferable smile; and I more
haughtily, but quite gravely, turned without disputing, and descended the
steps to the quaint little garden she had indicated.

I was surprised and very glad to see my father there. I ran to him, and
began, 'Oh! papa!' and then stopped short, adding only, 'may I speak to you
now?'

He smiled kindly and gravely on me.

'Well, Maud, say your say.'

'Oh, sir, it is only this: I entreat that our walks, mine and Madame's may
be confined to the grounds.'

'And why?'

'I--I'm afraid to go with her.'

'_Afraid!_' he repeated, looking hard at me. 'Have you lately had a letter
from Lady Knollys?'

'No, papa, not for two months or more.'

There was a pause.

'And why _afraid_, Maud?'

'She brought me one day to Church Scarsdale; you know what a solitary place
it is, sir; and she frightened me so that I was afraid to go with her into
the churchyard. But she went and left me alone at the other side of the
stream, and an impudent man passing by stopped and spoke to me, and seemed
inclined to laugh at me, and altogether frightened me very much, and he did
not go till Madame happened to return.'

'What kind of man--young or old?'

'A young man; he looked like a farmer's son, but very impudent, and stood
there talking to me whether I would or not; and Madame did not care at
all, and laughed at me for being frightened; and, indeed, I am very
uncomfortable with her.'

He gave me another shrewd look, and then looked down cloudily and thought.

'You say you are uncomfortable and frightened. How is this--what causes
these feelings?'

'I don't know, sir; she likes frightening me; I am afraid of her--we are
all afraid of her, I think. The servants, I mean, as well as I.'

My father nodded his head contemptuously, twice or thrice, and muttered, 'A
pack of fools!'

'And she was so very angry to-day with me, because I would not walk again
with her to Church Scarsdale. I am very much afraid of her. I--' and quite
unpremeditatedly I burst into tears.

'There, there, little Maud, you must not cry. She is here only for your
good. If you are afraid--even _foolishly_ afraid--it is enough. Be it as
you say; your walks are henceforward confined to the grounds; I'll tell her
so.'

I thanked him through my tears very earnestly.

'But, Maud, beware of prejudice; women are unjust and violent in their
judgments. Your family has suffered in some of its members by such
injustice. It behoves us to be careful not to practise it.'

That evening in the drawing-room my father said, in his usual abrupt way--

'About my departure, Maud: I've had a letter from London this morning, and
I think I shall be called away sooner than I at first supposed, and for a
little time we must manage apart from one another. Do not be alarmed. You
shall not be in Madame de la Rougierre's charge, but under the care of a
relation; but even so, little Maud will miss her old father, I think.'

His tone was very tender, so were his looks; he was looking down on me with
a smile, and tears were in his eyes. This softening was new to me. I felt a
strange thrill of surprise, delight, and love, and springing up, I threw my
arms about his neck and wept in silence. He, I think, shed tears also.

'You said a visitor was coming; some one, you mean, to go away with. Ah,
yes, you love him better than me.'

'No, dear, no; but I _fear_ him; and I am sorry to leave you, little Maud.'

'It won't be very long,' I pleaded.

'No, dear,' he answered with a sigh.

I was tempted almost to question him more closely on the subject, but he
seemed to divine what was in my mind, for he said--

'Let us speak no more of it, but only bear in mind, Maud, what I told you
about the oak cabinet, the key of which is here,' and he held it up as
formerly: 'you remember what you are to do in case Doctor Bryerly should
come while I am away?'

'Yes, sir.'

His manner had changed, and I had returned to my accustomed formalities.

It was only a few days later that Dr. Bryerly actually did arrive at Knowl,
quite unexpectedly, except, I suppose, by my father. He was to stay only
one night.

He was twice closeted in the little study up-stairs with my father, who
seemed to me, even for him, unusually dejected, and Mrs. Rusk inveighing
against 'them rubbitch,' as she always termed the Swedenborgians, told me
'they were making him quite shaky-like, and he would not last no time, if
that lanky, lean ghost of a fellow in black was to keep prowling in and out
of his room like a tame cat.'

I lay awake that night, wondering what the mystery might be that connected
my father and Dr. Bryerly. There was something more than the convictions
of their strange religion could account for. There was something that
profoundly agitated my father. It may not be reasonable, but so it is. The
person whose presence, though we know nothing of the cause of that effect,
is palpably attended with pain to anyone who is dear to us, grows odious,
and I began to detest Doctor Bryerly.

It was a grey, dark morning, and in a dark pass in the gallery, near the
staircase, I came full upon the ungainly Doctor, in his glossy black suit.

I think, if my mind had been less anxiously excited on the subject of
his visit, or if I had not disliked him so much, I should not have found
courage to accost him as I did. There was something sly, I thought, in his
dark, lean face; and he looked so low, so like a Scotch artisan in his
Sunday clothes, that I felt a sudden pang of indignation, at the thought
that a great gentleman, like my father, should have suffered under his
influence, and I stopped suddenly, instead of passing him by with a mere
salutation, as he expected, 'May I ask a question, Doctor Bryerly?'

'Certainly'

'Are you the friend whom my father expects?'

'I don't quite see.'

'The friend, I mean, with whom he is to make an expedition to some
distance, I think, and for some little time?'

'No,' said the Doctor, with a shake of his head.

'And who is he?'

'I really have not a notion, Miss.'

'Why, he said that _you knew_,' I replied.

The Doctor looked honestly puzzled.

'Will he stay long away? pray tell me.'

The Doctor looked into my troubled face with inquiring and darkened eyes,
like one who half reads another's meaning; and then he said a little
briskly, but not sharply--

'Well, _I_ don't know, I'm sure, Miss; no, indeed, you must have mistaken;
there's nothing that _I_ know.'

There was a little pause, and he added--

'No. He never mentioned any friend to me.' I fancied that he was made
uncomfortable by my question, and wanted to hide the truth. Perhaps I was
partly right.

'Oh! Doctor Bryerly, pray, _pray_ who is the friend, and where is he
going?'

'I do _assure_ you,' he said, with a strange sort of impatience, 'I don't
know; it is all nonsense.'

And he turned to go, looking, I think, annoyed and disconcerted.

A terrific suspicion crossed my brain like lightning.

'Doctor, one word,' I said, I believe, quite wildly. 'Do you--do you think
his mind is at all affected?'

'Insane?' he said, looking at me with a sudden, sharp inquisitiveness, that
brightened into a smile. 'Pooh, pooh! Heaven forbid! not a saner man in
England.'

Then with a little nod he walked on, carrying, as I believed,
notwithstanding his disclaimer, the secret with him. In the afternoon
Doctor Bryerly went away.




CHAPTER XVII

_AN ADVENTURE_


For many days after our quarrel, Madame hardly spoke to me. As for lessons,
I was not much troubled with them. It was plain, too, that my father had
spoken to her, for she never after that day proposed our extending our
walks beyond the precincts of Knowl.

Knowl, however, was a very considerable territory, and it was possible
for a much better pedestrian than I to tire herself effectually, without
passing its limits. So we took occasionally long walks.

After some weeks of sullenness, during which for days at a time she hardly
spoke to me, and seemed lost in dark and evil abstraction, she once more,
and somewhat suddenly, recovered her spirits, and grew quite friendly. Her
gaieties and friendliness were not reassuring, and in my mind presaged
approaching mischief and treachery. The days were shortening to the wintry
span. The edge of the red sun had already touched the horizon as Madame and
I, overtaken at the warren by his last beams, were hastening homeward.

A narrow carriage-road traverses this wild region of the park, to which a
distant gate gives entrance. On descending into this unfrequented road, I
was surprised to see a carriage standing there. A thin, sly postilion,
with that pert, turned-up nose which the old caricaturist Woodward used to
attribute to the gentlemen of Tewkesbury, was leaning on his horses, and
looked hard at me as I passed. A lady who sat within looked out, with an
extra-fashionable bonnet on, and also treated us to a stare. Very pink and
white cheeks she had, very black glossy hair and bright eyes--fat, bold,
and rather cross, she looked--and in her bold way she examined us curiously
as we passed.

I mistook the situation. It had once happened before that an intending
visitor at Knowl had entered the place by that park-road, and lost several
hours in a vain search for the house.

'Ask him, Madame, whether they want to go to the house; I dare say they
have missed their way,' whispered I.

'_Eh bien,_ they will find again. I do not choose to talk to post-boys;
_allons_!'

But I asked the man as we passed, 'Do you want to reach the house?'

By this time he was at the horses' heads, buckling the harness.

'Noa,' he said in a surly tone, smiling oddly on the winkers, but,
recollecting his politeness, he added, 'Noa, thankee, misses, it's what
they calls a picnic; we'll be takin' the road now.'

He was smiling now on a little buckle with which he was engaged.

'Come--nonsense!' whispered Madame sharply in my ear, and she whisked me by
the arm, so we crossed the little stile at the other side.

Our path lay across the warren, which undulates in little hillocks. The sun
was down by this time, blue shadows were stretching round us, colder in the
splendid contrast of the burnished sunset sky.

Descending over these hillocks we saw three figures a little in advance of
us, not far from the path we were tracing. Two were standing smoking and
chatting at intervals: one tall and slim, with a high chimney-pot, worn a
little on one side, and a white great-coat buttoned up to the chin; the
other shorter and stouter, with a dark-coloured wrapper. These gentlemen
were facing rather our way as we came over the edge of the eminence, but
turned their backs on perceiving our approach. As they did so, I remember
so well each lowered his cigar suddenly with the simultaneousness of a
drill. The third figure sustained the picnic character of the group, for he
was repacking a hamper. He stood suddenly erect as we drew near, and a very
ill-looking person he was, low-browed, square-chinned, and with a broad,
broken nose. He wore gaiters, and was a little bandy, very broad, and had
a closely-cropped bullet head, and deep-set little eyes. The moment I saw
him, I beheld the living type of the burglars and bruisers whom I had so
often beheld with a kind of scepticism in _Punch_. He stood over his hamper
and scowled sharply at us for a moment; then with the point of his foot he
jerked a little fur cap that lay on the ground into his hand, drew it tight
over his lowering brows, and called to his companions, just as we passed
him--'Hallo! mister. How's this?'

'All right,' said the tall person in the white great-coat, who, as he
answered, shook his shorter companion by the arm, I thought angrily.

This shorter companion turned about. He had a muffler loose about his neck
and chin. I thought he seemed shy and irresolute, and the tall man gave him
a great jolt with his elbow, which made him stagger, and I fancied a little
angry, for he said, as it seemed, a sulky word or two.

The gentleman in the white surtout, however, standing direct in our way,
raised his hat with a mock salutation, placing his hand on his breast,
and forthwith began to advance with an insolent grin and an air of tipsy
frolic.

'Jist in time, ladies; five minutes more and we'd a bin off. Thankee, Mrs.
Mouser, ma'am, for the honour of the meetin', and more particular for the
pleasure of making your young lady's acquaintance--niece, ma'am? daughter,
ma'am? granddaughter, by Jove, is it? Hallo! there, mild 'n, I say, stop
packin'.' This was to the ill-favoured person with the broken nose. 'Bring
us a couple o' glasses and a bottle o' curaçoa; what are you fear'd on, my
dear? this is Lord Lollipop, here, a reg'lar charmer, wouldn't hurt a fly,
hey Lolly? Isn't he pretty, Miss? and I'm Sir Simon Sugarstick--so called
after old Sir Simon, ma'am; and I'm so tall and straight, Miss, and
slim--ain't I? and ever so sweet, my honey, when you come to know me, just
like a sugarstick; ain't I, Lolly, boy?'

'I'm Miss Ruthyn, tell them, Madame,' I said, stamping on the ground, and
very much frightened.

'Be quaite, Maud. If you are angry, they will hurt us; leave me to speak,'
whispered the gouvernante.

All this time they were approaching from separate points. I glanced back,
and saw the ruffianly-looking man within a yard or two, with his arm raised
and one finger up, telegraphing, as it seemed, to the gentlemen in front.

'Be quaite, Maud,' whispered Madame, with an awful adjuration, which I do
not care to set down. 'They are teepsy; don't seem 'fraid.'

I _was_ afraid--terrified. The circle had now so narrowed that they might
have placed their hands on my shoulders.

'Pray, gentlemen, wat you want? _weel_ a you 'av the goodness to permit us
to go on?'

I now observed for the first time, with a kind of shock, that the shorter
of the two men, who prevented our advance, was the person who had accosted
me so offensively at Church Scarsdale. I pulled Madame by the arm,
whispering, 'Let us run.'

'Be quaite, my dear Maud,' was her only reply.

'I tell you what,' said the tall man, who had replaced his high hat more
jauntily than before on the side of his head, 'We've caught you now, fair
game, and we'll let you off on conditions. You must not be frightened,
Miss. Upon my honour and soul, I mean no mischief; do I, Lollipop? I call
him Lord Lollipop; it's only chaff, though; his name's Smith. Now, Lolly,
I vote we let the prisoners go, when we just introduce them to Mrs. Smith;
she's sitting in the carriage, and keeps Mr. S. here in precious good
order, I promise you. There's easy terms for you, eh, and we'll have a
glass o' curaçoa round, and so part friends. Is it a bargain? Come!'

'Yes, Maud, we must go--wat matter?' whispered Madame vehemently.

'You shan't,' I said, instinctively terrified.

'You'll go with Ma'am, young 'un, won't you?' said Mr. Smith, as his
companion called him.

Madame was holding my arm, but I snatched it from her, and would have run;
the tall man, however, placed his arms round me and held me fast with an
affectation of playfulness, but his grip was hard enough to hurt me a good
deal. Being now thoroughly frightened, after an ineffectual struggle,
during which I heard Madame say, 'You fool, Maud, weel you come with me?
see wat you are doing,' I began to scream, shriek after shriek, which the
man attempted to drown with loud hooting, peals of laughter, forcing
his handkerchief against my mouth, while Madame continued to bawl her
exhortations to 'be quaite' in my ear.

'I'll lift her, I say!' said a gruff voice behind me.

But at this instant, wild with terror, I distinctly heard other voices
shouting. The men who surrounded me were instantly silent, and all looked
in the direction of the sound, now very near, and I screamed with redoubled
energy. The ruffian behind me thrust his great hand over my mouth.

'It is the gamekeeper,' cried Madame. '_Two_ gamekeepers--we are
safe--thank Heaven!' and she began to call on Dykes by name.

I only remember, feeling myself at liberty--running a few steps--seeing
Dykes' white furious face--clinging to his arm, with which he was bringing
his gun to a level, and saying, 'Don't fire--they'll murder us if you do.'

Madame, screaming lustily, ran up at the same moment.

'Run on to the gate and lock it--I'll be wi' ye in a minute,' cried he to
the other gamekeeper; who started instantly on this mission, for the three
ruffians were already in full retreat for the carriage.

Giddy--wild--fainting--still terror carried me on.

'Now, Madame Rogers--s'pose you take young Misses on--I must run and len'
Bill a hand.'

'No, no; you moste not,' cried Madame. 'I am fainting myself, and more
villains they may be near to us.'

But at this moment we heard a shot, and, muttering to himself and grasping
his gun, Dykes ran at his utmost speed in the direction of the sound.

With many exhortations to speed, and ejaculations of alarm, Madame hurried
me on toward the house, which at length we reached without further
adventure.

As it happened, my father met us in the hall. He was perfectly transported
with fury on hearing from Madame what had happened, and set out at once,
with some of the servants, in the hope of intercepting the party at the
park-gate.

Here was a new agitation; for my father did not return for nearly three
hours, and I could not conjecture what might be occurring during the period
of his absence. My alarm was greatly increased by the arrival in the
interval of poor Bill, the under-gamekeeper, very much injured.

Seeing that he was determined to intercept their retreat, the three men had
set upon him, wrested his gun, which exploded in the struggle, from him,
and beat him savagely. I mention these particulars, because they convinced
everybody that there was something specially determined and ferocious in
the spirit of the party, and that the fracas was no mere frolic, but the
result of a predetermined plan.

My father had not succeeded in overtaking them. He traced them to the
Lugton Station, where they had taken the railway, and no one could tell him
in what direction the carriage and posthorses had driven.

Madame was, or affected to be, very much shattered by what had occurred.
Her recollection and mine, when my father questioned us closely, differed
very materially respecting many details of the _personnel_ of the
villanous party. She was obstinate and clear; and although the gamekeeper
corroborated my description of them, still my father was puzzled. Perhaps
he was not sorry that some hesitation was forced upon him, because although
at first he would have gone almost any length to detect the persons, on
reflection he was pleased that there was not evidence to bring them into
a court of justice, the publicity and annoyance of which would have been
inconceivably distressing to me.

Madame was in a strange state--tempestuous in temper, talking
incessantly--every now and then in floods of tears, and perpetually on
her knees pouring forth torrents of thanksgiving to Heaven for our joint
deliverance from the hands of those villains. Notwithstanding our community
of danger and her thankfulness on my behalf, however, she broke forth into
wrath and railing whenever we were alone together.

'Wat fool you were! so disobedient and obstinate; if you 'ad done wat _I_
say, then we should av been quaite safe; those persons they were tipsy, and
there is nothing so dangerous as to quarrel with tipsy persons; I would
'av brought you quaite safe--the lady she seem so nice and quaite, and we
should 'av been safe with her--there would 'av been nothing absolutely; but
instead you would scream and pooshe, and so they grow quite wild, and all
the impertinence and violence follow of course; and that a poor Bill--all
his beating and danger to his life it is cause entairely by you.'

And she spoke with more real virulence than that kind of upbraiding
generally exhibits.

'The beast!' exclaimed Mrs. Rusk, when she, I, and Mary Quince were in my
room together, 'with all her crying and praying, I'd like to know as much
as she does, maybe, about them rascals. There never was sich like about the
place, long as I remember it, till she came to Knowl, old witch! with them
unmerciful big bones of hers, and her great bald head, grinning here, and
crying there, and her nose everywhere. The old French hypocrite!'

Mary Quince threw in an observation, and I believe Mrs. Rusk rejoined, but
I heard neither. For whether the housekeeper spoke with reflection or not,
what she said affected me strangely. Through the smallest aperture, for
a moment, I had had a peep into Pandemonium. Were not peculiarities of
Madame's demeanour and advice during the adventure partly accounted for by
the suggestion? Could the proposed excursion to Church Scarsdale have had
any purpose of the same sort? What was proposed? How was Madame interested
in it? Were such immeasurable treason and hypocrisy possible? I could not
explain nor quite believe in the shapeless suspicion that with these light
and bitter words of the old housekeeper had stolen so horribly into my
mind.

After Mrs. Rusk was gone I awoke from my dismal abstraction with something
like a moan and a shudder, with a dreadful sense of danger.

'Oh! Mary Quince,' I cried, 'do you think she really knew?'

'_Who_, Miss Maud?'

'Do you think Madame knew of those dreadful people? Oh, no--say you
don't--you don't believe it--tell me she did not. I'm distracted, Mary
Quince, I'm frightened out of my life.'

'There now, Miss Maud, dear--there now, don't take on so--why should
she?--no sich a thing. Mrs. Rusk, law bless you, she's no more meaning in
what she says than the child unborn.'

But I was really frightened. I was in a horrible state of uncertainty as to
Madame de la Rougierre's complicity with the party who had beset us at the
warren, and afterwards so murderously beat our poor gamekeeper. How was
I ever to get rid of that horrible woman? How long was she to enjoy her
continual opportunities of affrighting and injuring me?

'She hates me--she hates me, Mary Quince; and she will never stop until she
has done me some dreadful injury. Oh! will no one relieve me--will no one
take her away? Oh, papa, papa, papa! you will be sorry when it is too
late.'

I was crying and wringing my hands, and turning from side to side, at my
wits' ends, and honest Mary Quince in vain endevoured to quiet and comfort
me.




CHAPTER XVIII

_A MIDNIGHT VISITOR_


The frightful warnings of Lady Knollys haunted me too. Was there no escape
from the dreadful companion whom fate had assigned me? I made up my mind
again and again to speak to my father and urge her removal. In other things
he indulged me; here, however, he met me drily and sternly, and it was
plain that he fancied I was under my cousin Monica's influence, and also
that he had secret reasons for persisting in an opposite course. Just then
I had a gay, odd letter from Lady Knollys, from some country house in
Shropshire. Not a word about Captain Oakley. My eye skimmed its pages in
search of that charmed name. With a peevish feeling I tossed the sheet upon
the table. Inwardly I thought how ill-natured and unwomanly it was.

After a time, however, I read it, and found the letter very good-natured.
She had received a note from papa. He had 'had the impudence to forgive
_her_ for _his_ impertinence.' But for my sake she meant, notwithstanding
this aggravation, really to pardon him; and whenever she had a disengaged
week, to accept his invitation to Knowl, from whence she was resolved to
whisk me off to London, where, though I was too young to be presented at
Court and come out, I might yet--besides having the best masters and a good
excuse for getting rid of Medusa--see a great deal that would amuse and
surprise me.

'Great news, I suppose, from Lady Knollys?' said Madame, who always knew
who in the house received letters by the post, and by an intuition from
whom they came.

'Two letters--you and your papa. She is quite well, I hope?'

'Quite well, thank you, Madame.'

Some fishing questions, dropped from time to time, fared no better. And
as usual, when she was foiled even in a trifle, she became sullen and
malignant.

That night, when my father and I were alone, he suddenly closed the book he
had been reading, and said--

'I heard from Monica Knollys to-day. I always liked poor Monnie; and though
she's no witch, and very wrong-headed at times, yet now and then she does
say a thing that's worth weighing. Did she ever talk to you of a time,
Maud, when you are to be your own mistress?'

'No,' I answered, a little puzzled, and looking straight in his rugged,
kindly face.

'Well, I thought she might--she's a rattle, you know--always _was_ a
rattle, and that sort of people say whatever comes uppermost. But that's a
subject for me, and more than once, Maud, it has puzzled me.'

He sighed.

'Come with me to the study, little Maud.'

So, he carrying a candle, we crossed the lobby, and marched together
through the passage, which at night always seemed a little awesome, darkly
wainscoted, uncheered by the cross-light from the hall, which was lost at
the turn, leading us away from the frequented parts of the house to that
misshapen and lonely room about which the traditions of the nursery and the
servants' hall had had so many fearful stories to recount.

I think my father had intended making some disclosure to me on reaching
this room. If so, he changed his mind, or at least postponed his intention.

He had paused before the cabinet, respecting the key of which he had given
me so strict a charge, and I think he was going to explain himself more
fully than he had done. But he went on, instead, to the table where his
desk, always jealously locked, was placed, and having lighted the candles
which stood by it, he glanced at me, and said--

'You must wait a little, Maud; I shall have something to say to you. Take
this candle and amuse yourself with a book meanwhile.'

I was accustomed to obey in silence. I chose a volume of engravings,
and ensconced myself in a favourite nook in which I had often passed a
half-hour similarly. This was a deep recess by the fireplace, fenced on the
other side by a great old escritoir. Into this I drew a stool, and, with
candle and book, I placed myself snugly in the narrow chamber. Every now
and then I raised my eyes and saw my father either writing or ruminating,
as it seemed to me, very anxiously at his desk.

Time wore on--a longer time than he had intended, and still he continued
absorbed at his desk. Gradually I grew sleepy, and as I nodded, the book
and room faded away, and pleasant little dreams began to gather round me,
and so I went off into a deep slumber.

It must have lasted long, for when I wakened my candle had burnt out; my
father, having quite forgotten me, was gone, and the room was dark and
deserted. I felt cold and a little stiff, and for some seconds did not know
where I was.

I had been wakened, I suppose, by a sound which I now distinctly heard, to
my great terror, approaching. There was a rustling; there was a breathing.
I heard a creaking upon the plank that always creaked when walked upon in
the passage. I held my breath and listened, and coiled myself up in the
innermost recess of my little chamber.

Sudden and sharp, a light shone in from the nearly-closed study door. It
shone angularly on the ceiling like a letter L reversed. There was a pause.
Then some one knocked softly at the door, which after another pause was
slowly pushed open. I expected, I think, to see the dreaded figure of
the linkman. I was scarcely less frightened to see that of Madame de la
Rougierre. She was dressed in a sort of grey silk, which she called her
Chinese silk--precisely as she had been in the daytime. In fact, I do not
think she had undressed. She had no shoes on. Otherwise her toilet was
deficient in nothing. Her wide mouth was grimly closed, and she stood
scowling into the room with a searching and pallid scrutiny, the candle
held high above her head at the full stretch of her arm.

Placed as I was in a deep recess, and in a seat hardly raised above the
level of the floor, I escaped her, although it seemed to me for some
seconds, as I gazed on this spectre, that our eyes actually met.

I sat without breathing or winking, staring upon the formidable image which
with upstretched arm, and the sharp lights and hard shadows thrown upon her
corrugated features, looked like a sorceress watching for the effect of a
spell.

She was plainly listening intensely. Unconsciously she had drawn her lower
lip altogether between her teeth, and I well remember what a deathlike and
idiotic look the contortion gave her. My terror lest she should discover me
amounted to positive agony. She rolled her eyes stealthily from corner to
corner of the room, and listened with her neck awry at the door.

Then to my father's desk she went. To my great relief, her back was towards
me. She stooped over it, with the candle close by; I saw her try a key--it
could be nothing else--and I heard her blow through the wards to clear
them.

Then, again, she listened at the door, candle in hand, and then with long
tiptoe steps came back, and papa's desk in another moment was open, and
Madame cautiously turning over the papers it contained.

Twice or thrice she paused, glided to the door, and listened again intently
with her head near the ground, and then returned and continued her search,
peeping into papers one after another, tolerably methodically, and reading
some quite through.

While this felonious business was going on, I was freezing with fear lest
she should accidentally look round and her eyes light on me; for I could
not say what she might not do rather than have her crime discovered.

Sometimes she would read a paper twice over; sometimes a whisper no louder
than the ticking of a watch, sometimes a brief chuckle under her breath,
bespoke the interest with which here and there a letter or a memorandum was
read.

For about half an hour, I think, this went on; but at the time it seemed to
me all but interminable. On a sudden she raised her head and listened for a
moment, replaced the papers deftly, closed the desk without noise, except
for the tiny click of the lock, extinguished the candle, and rustled
stealthily out of the room, leaving in the darkness the malign and hag-like
face on which the candle had just shone still floating filmy in the dark.

Why did I remain silent and motionless while such an outrage was being
committed? If, instead of being a very nervous girl, preoccupied with
an undefinable terror of that wicked woman, I had possessed courage and
presence of mind, I dare say I might have given an alarm, and escaped from
the room without the slightest risk. But so it was; I could no more stir
than the bird who, cowering under its ivy, sees the white owl sailing back
and forward under its predatory cruise.

Not only during her presence, but for more than an hour after, I remained
cowering in my hiding-place, and afraid to stir, lest she might either be
lurking in the neighborhood, or return and surprise me.

You will not be astonished, that after a night so passed I was ill and
feverish in the morning. To my horror, Madame de la Rougierre came to visit
me at my bedside. Not a trace of guilty consciousness of what had passed
during the night was legible in her face. She had no sign of late watching,
and her toilet was exemplary.

As she sat smiling by me, full of anxious and affectionate enquiry,
and smoothed the coverlet with her great felonious hand, I could quite
comprehend the dreadful feeling with which the deceived husband in the
'Arabian Nights' met his ghoul wife, after his nocturnal discovery.

Ill as I was, I got up and found my father in that room which adjoined his
bedchamber. He perceived, I am sure, by my looks, that something unusual
had happened. I shut the door, and came close beside his chair.

'Oh, papa, I have such a thing to tell you!' I forgot to call him 'Sir.' 'A
secret; and you won't say who told you? Will you come down to the study?'

He looked hard at me, got up, and kissing my forehead, said--'Don't be
frightened, Maud; I venture to say it is a mare's nest; at all events, my
child, we will take care that no danger reaches you; come, child.'

And by the hand he led me to the study. When the door was shut, and we had
reached the far end of the room next the window, I said, but in a low tone,
and holding his arm fast--

'Oh, sir, you don't know what a dreadful person we have living with
us--Madame de la Rougierre, I mean. Don't let her in if she comes; she
would guess what I am telling you, and one way or another I am sure she
would kill me.'

'Tut, tut, child. You _must_ know that's nonsense,' he said, looking pale
and stern.

'Oh no, papa. I am horribly frightened, and Lady Knollys thinks so too.'

'Ha! I dare say; one fool makes many. We all know what Monica thinks.'

'But I _saw_ it, papa. She stole your key last night, and opened your desk,
and read all your papers.'

'Stole my key!' said my father, staring at me perplexed, but at the same
instant producing it. 'Stole it! Why here it is!'

'She unlocked your desk; she read your papers for ever so long. Open it
now, and see whether they have not been stirred.'

He looked at me this time in silence, with a puzzled air; but he did unlock
the desk, and lifted the papers curiously and suspiciously. As he did so
he uttered a few of those inarticulate interjections which are made with
closed lips, and not always intelligible; but he made no remark.

Then he placed me on a chair beside him, and sitting down himself, told
me to recollect myself, and tell him distinctly all I had seen. This
accordingly I did, he listening with deep attention.

'Did she remove any paper?' asked my father, at the same time making a
little search, I suppose, for that which he fancied might have been stolen.

'No; I did not see her take anything.'

'Well, you are a good girl, Maud. Act discreetly. Say nothing to
anyone--not even to your cousin Monica.'

Directions which, coming from another person would have had no great
weight, were spoken by my father with an earnest look and a weight of
emphasis that made them irresistibly impressive, and I went away with the
seal of silence upon my lips.

'Sit down, Maud, _there_. You have not been very happy with Madame de la
Rougierre. It is time you were relieved. This occurrence decides it.'

He rang the bell.

'Tell Madame de la Rougierre that I request the honour of seeing her for a
few minutes here.'

My father's communications to her were always equally ceremonious. In a
few minutes there was a knock at the door, and the same figure, smiling,
courtesying, that had scared me on the threshold last night, like the
spirit of evil, presented itself.

My father rose, and Madame having at his request taken a chair opposite,
looking, as usual in his presence, all amiability, he proceeded at once to
the point.

'Madame de la Rougierre, I have to request you that you will give me the
key now in your possession, which unlocks this desk of mine.'

With which termination he tapped his gold pencil-case suddenly on it.

Madame, who had expected something very different, became instantly so
pale, with a dull purplish hue upon her forehead, that, especially when she
had twice essayed with her white lips, in vain, to answer, I expected to
see her fall in a fit.

She was not looking in his face; her eyes were fixed lower, and her mouth
and cheek sucked in, with a strange distortion at one side.

She stood up suddenly, and staring straight in his face, she succeeded in
saying, after twice clearing her throat--

'I cannot comprehend, Monsieur Ruthyn, unless you intend to insult me.'

'It won't do, Madame; I must have that false key. I give you the
opportunity of surrendering it quietly here and now.'

'But who dares to say I possess such thing?' demanded Madame, who, having
rallied from her momentary paralysis, was now fierce and voluble as I had
often seen her before.

'You know, Madame, that you can rely on what I say, and I tell you that you
were seen last night visiting this room, and with a key in your possession,
opening this desk, and reading my letters and papers contained in it.
Unless you forthwith give me that key, and any other false keys in your
possession--in which case I shall rest content with dismissing you
summarily--I will take a different course. You know I am a magistrate;--and
I shall have you, your boxes, and places up-stairs, searched forthwith,
and I will prosecute you criminally. The thing is clear; you aggravate by
denying; you must give me that key, if you please, instantly, otherwise I
ring this bell, and you shall see that I mean what I say.'

There was a little pause. He rose and extended his hand towards the
bell-rope. Madame glided round the table, extended her hand to arrest his.

'I will do everything, Monsieur Ruthyn--whatever you wish.'

And with these words Madame de la Rougierre broke down altogether. She
sobbed, she wept, she gabbled piteously, all manner of incomprehensible
roulades of lamentation and entreaty; coyly, penitently, in a most
interesting agitation, she produced the very key from her breast, with a
string tied to it. My father was little moved by this piteous tempest. He
coolly took the key and tried it in the desk, which it locked and unlocked
quite freely, though the wards were complicated. He shook his head and
looked her in the face.

'Pray, who made this key? It is a new one, and made expressly to pick this
lock.'

But Madame was not going to tell any more than she had expressly bargained
for; so she only fell once more into her old paroxysm of sorrow,
self-reproach, extenuation, and entreaty.

'Well,' said my father,' I promised that on surrendering the key you should
go. It is enough. I keep my word. You shall have an hour and a half to
prepare in. You must then be ready to depart. I will send your money to you
by Mrs. Rusk; and if you look for another situation, you had better not
refer to me. Now be so good as to leave me.'

Madame seemed to be in a strange perplexity. She bridled up, dried her eyes
fiercely, and dropped a great courtesy, and then sailed away towards the
door. Before reaching it she stopped on the way, turning half round, with
a peaked, pallid glance at my father, and she bit her lip viciously as she
eyed him. At the door the same repulsive pantomime was repeated, as she
stood for a moment with her hand upon the handle. But she changed her
bearing again with a sniff, and with a look of scorn, almost heightened to
a sneer, she made another very low courtesy and a disdainful toss of her
head, and so disappeared, shutting the door rather sharply behind her.




CHAPTER XIX

_AU REVOIR_


Mrs. Rusk was fond of assuring me that Madame 'did not like a bone in my
skin.' Instinctively I knew that she bore me no good-will, although I
really believe it was her wish to make me think quite the reverse. At all
events I had no desire to see Madame again before her departure, especially
as she had thrown upon me one momentary glance in the study, which seemed
to me charged with very peculiar feelings.

You may be very sure, therefore, that I had no desire for a formal
leave-taking at her departure. I took my hat and cloak, therefore, and
stole out quietly.

My ramble was a sequestered one, and well screened, even at this late
season, with foliage; the pathway devious among the stems of old trees, and
its flooring interlaced and groined with their knotted roots. Though near
the house, it was a sylvan solitude; a little brook ran darkling and
glimmering through it, wild strawberries and other woodland plants strewed
the ground, and the sweet notes and flutter of small birds made the shadow
of the boughs cheery.

I had been fully an hour in this picturesque solitude when I heard in the
distance the ring of carriage-wheels, announcing to me that Madame de la
Rougierre had fairly set out upon her travels. I thanked heaven; I could
have danced and sung with delight; I heaved a great sigh and looked up
through the branches to the clear blue sky.

But things are oddly timed. Just at this moment I heard Madame's voice
close at my ear, and her large bony hand was laid on my shoulder. We were
instantly face to face--I recoiling, and for a moment speechless with
fright.

In very early youth we do not appreciate the restraints which act upon
malignity, or know how effectually fear protects us where conscience is
wanting. Quite alone, in this solitary spot, detected and overtaken with an
awful instinct by my enemy, what might not be about to happen to me at that
moment?

'Frightened as usual, Maud,' she said quietly, and eyeing me with a
sinister smile, 'and with cause you think, no doubt. Wat 'av you done to
injure poor Madame? Well, I think I know, little girl, and have quite
discover the cleverness of my sweet little Maud. Eh--is not so? Petite
carogne--ah, ha, ha!'

I was too much confounded to answer.

'You see, my dear cheaile,' she said, shaking her uplifted finger with a
hideous archness at me, 'you could not hide what you 'av done from poor
Madame. You cannot look so innocent but I can see your pretty little
villany quite plain--you dear little diablesse.

'Wat I 'av done I 'av no reproach of myself for it. If I could explain,
your papa would say I 'av done right, and you should thank me on your
knees; but I cannot explain yet.'

She was speaking, as it were, in little paragraphs, with a momentary pause
between each, to allow its meaning to impress itself.

'If I were to choose to explain, your papa he would implore me to remain.
But no--I would not--notwithstanding your so cheerful house, your charming
servants, your papa's amusing society, and your affectionate and sincere
heart, my sweet little maraude.

'I am to go to London first, where I 'av, oh, so good friends! next I will
go abroad for some time; but be sure, my sweetest Maud, wherever I may
'appen to be, I will remember you--ah, ha! Yes; _most certainly_, I will
remember you.

'And although I shall not be always near, yet I shall know everything
about my charming little Maud; you will not know how, but I shall indeed,
_everything_. And be sure, my dearest cheaile, I will some time be able to
give you the sensible proofs of my gratitude and affection--you understand.

'The carriage is waiting at the yew-tree stile, and I must go on. You did
not expect to see me--here; I will appear, perhaps, as suddenly another
time. It is great pleasure to us both--this opportunity to make our adieux.
Farewell! my dearest little Maud. I will never cease to think of you, and
of some way to recompense the kindness you 'av shown for poor Madame.'

My hand hung by my side, and she took, not it, but my thumb, and shook
it, folded in her broad palm, and looking on me as she held it, as if
meditating mischief. Then suddenly she said--

'You will always remember Madame, I _think_, and I will remind you of me
beside; and for the present farewell, and I hope you may be as 'appy as you
deserve.'

The large sinister face looked on me for a second with its latent sneer,
and then, with a sharp nod and a spasmodic shake of my imprisoned thumb,
she turned, and holding her dress together, and showing her great bony
ankles, she strode rapidly away over the gnarled roots into the perspective
of the trees, and I did not awake, as it were, until she had quite
disappeared in the distance.

Events of this kind made no difference with my father; but every other face
in Knowl was gladdened by the removal. My energies had returned, my spirits
were come again. The sunlight was happy, the flowers innocent, the songs
and flutter of the birds once more gay, and all nature delightful and
rejoicing.

After the first elation of relief, now and then a filmy shadow of Madame de
la Rougierre would glide across the sunlight, and the remembrance of her
menace return with an unexpected pang of fear.

'Well, if _there_ isn't impittens!' cried Mrs. Rusk. 'But never you trouble
your head about it, Miss. Them sort's all alike--you never saw a rogue yet
that was found out and didn't threaten the honest folk as he was leaving
behind with all sorts; there was Martin the gamekeeper, and Jervis the
footman, I mind well how hard they swore all they would not do when they
was a-going, and who ever heard of them since? They always threatens that
way--them sort always does, and none ever the worse--not but she would if
she could, mind ye, but there it is; she can't do nothing but bite her
nails and cuss us--not she--ha, ha, ha!'

So I was comforted. But Madame's evil smile, nevertheless, from time to
time, would sail across my vision with a silent menace, and my spirits
sank, and a Fate, draped in black, whose face I could not see, took me by
the hand, and led me away, in the spirit, silently, on an awful exploration
from which I would rouse myself with a start, and Madame was gone for a
while.

She had, however, judged her little parting well. She contrived to leave
her glamour over me, and in my dreams she troubled me.

I was, however, indescribably relieved. I wrote in high spirits to Cousin
Monica; and wondered what plans my father might have formed about me, and
whether we were to stay at home, or go to London, or go abroad. Of the
last--the pleasantest arrangement, in some respects--I had nevertheless an
occult horror. A secret conviction haunted me that were we to go abroad, we
should there meet Madame, which to me was like meeting my evil genius.

I have said more than once that my father was an odd man; and the reader
will, by this time, have seen that there was much about him not easily
understood. I often wonder whether, if he had been franker, I should have
found him less odd than I supposed, or more odd still. Things that moved me
profoundly did not apparently affect him at all. The departure of Madame,
under the circumstances which attended it, appeared to my childish mind an
event of the vastest importance. No one was indifferent to the occurrence
in the house but its master. He never alluded again to Madame de la
Rougierre. But whether connected with her exposure and dismissal, I could
not say, there did appear to be some new care or trouble now at work in my
father's mind.

'I have been thinking a great deal about you, Maud. I am anxious. I have
not been so troubled for years. Why has not Monica Knollys a little more
sense?'

This oracular sentence he spoke, having stopped me in the hall; and then
saying, 'We shall see,' he left me as abruptly as he appeared.

Did he apprehend any danger to me from the vindictiveness of Madame?

A day or two afterwards, as I was in the Dutch garden, I saw him on the
terrace steps. He beckoned to me, and came to meet me as I approached.

'You must be very solitary, little Maud; it is not good. I have written to
Monica: in a matter of detail she is competent to advise; perhaps she will
come here for a short visit.'

I was very glad to hear this.

'_You_ are more interested than for my time _I_ can be, in vindicating his
character.'

'Whose character, sir?' I ventured to enquire during the pause that
followed.

One trick which my father had acquired from his habits of solitude and
silence was this of assuming that the context of his thoughts was legible
to others, forgetting that they had not been spoken.

'Whose?--your uncle Silas's. In the course of nature he must survive me. He
will then represent the family name. Would you make some sacrifice to clear
that name, Maud?'

I answered briefly; but my face, I believe, showed my enthusiasm.

He turned on me such an approving smile as you might fancy lighting up the
rugged features of a pale old Rembrandt.

'I can tell you, Maud; if my life could have done it, it should not have
been undone--_ubi lapsus, quid feci_. But I had almost made up my mind to
change my plan, and leave all to time--_edax rerum_--to illuminate or
to _consume_. But I think little Maud would like to contribute to the
restitution of her family name. It may cost you something--are you willing
to buy it at a sacrifice? Is there--I don't speak of fortune, that is not
involved--but is there any other honourable sacrifice you would shrink from
to dispel the disgrace under which our most ancient and honourable name
must otherwise continue to languish?'

'Oh, none--none indeed, sir--I am delighted!'

Again I saw the Rembrandt smile.

'Well, Maud, I am sure there is _no_ risk; but you are to suppose there is.
Are you still willing to accept it?'

Again I assented.

'You are worthy of your blood, Maud Ruthyn. It will come soon, and it won't
last long. But you must not let people like Monica Knollys frighten you.'

I was lost in wonder.

'If you allow them to possess you with their follies, you had better recede
in time--they may make the ordeal as terrible as hell itself. You have
zeal--have you nerve?' I thought in such a cause I had nerve for anything.

'Well, Maud, in the course of a few months--and it may be sooner--there
must be a change. I have had a letter from London this morning that assures
me of that. I must then leave you for a time; in my absence be faithful to
the duties that will arise. To whom much is committed, of him will much be
required. You shall promise me not to mention this conversation to Monica
Knollys. If you are a talking girl, and cannot trust yourself, say so, and
we will not ask her to come. Also, don't invite her to talk about your
uncle Silas--I have reasons. Do you quite understand my conditions?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Your uncle Silas,' he said, speaking suddenly in loud and fierce tones
that sounded from so old a man almost terrible, 'lies under an intolerable
slander. I don't correspond with him; I don't sympathise with him; I never
quite did. He has grown religious, and that's well; but there are things in
which even religion should not bring a man to acquiesce; and from what
I can learn, he, the person primarily affected--the cause, though the
innocent cause--of this great calamity--bears it with an easy apathy which
is mistaken, and liable easily to be mistaken, and such as no Ruthyn, under
the circumstances, ought to exhibit. I told him what he ought to do, and
offered to open my purse for the purpose; but he would not, or _did_ not;
indeed, he _never_ took my advice; he followed his own, and a foul and
dismal shoal he has drifted on. It is not for his sake--why should I?-that
I have longed and laboured to remove the disgraceful slur under which
his ill-fortune has thrown us. He troubles himself little about it, I
believe--he's meek, meeker than I. He cares less about his children than I
about you, Maud; he is selfishly sunk in futurity--a feeble visionary. I am
not so. I believe it to be a duty to take care of others beside myself. The
character and influence of an ancient family is a peculiar heritage--sacred
but destructible; and woe to him who either destroys or suffers it to
perish!'

This was the longest speech I ever heard my father speak before or after.
He abruptly resumed--

'Yes, we will, Maud--you and I--we'll leave one proof on record, which,
fairly read, will go far to convince the world.'

He looked round, but we were alone. The garden was nearly always solitary,
and few visitors ever approached the house from that side.

'I have talked too long, I believe; we are children to the last. Leave me,
Maud. I think I know you better than I did, and I am pleased with you. Go,
child--I'll sit here.'

If he had acquired new ideas of me, so had I of him from that interview. I
had no idea till then how much passion still burned in that aged frame, nor
how full of energy and fire that face, generally so stern and ashen, could
appear. As I left him seated on the rustic chair, by the steps, the traces
of that storm were still discernible on his features. His gathered brows,
glowing eyes, and strangely hectic face, and the grim compression of his
mouth, still showed the agitation which, somehow, in grey old age, shocks
and alarms the young.




CHAPTER XX

_AUSTIN RUTHYN SETS OUT ON HIS JOURNEY_


The Rev. William Fairfield, Doctor Clay's somewhat bald curate, a mild,
thin man, with a high and thin nose, who was preparing me for confirmation,
came next day; and when our catechetical conference was ended, and before
lunch was announced, my father sent for him to the study, where he remained
until the bell rang out its summons.

'We have had some interesting--I may say _very_ interesting--conversation,
your papa and I, Miss Ruthyn,' said my reverend _vis-à-vis_, so soon as
nature was refreshed, smiling and shining, as he leaned back in his chair,
his hand upon the table, and his finger curled gently upon the stem of his
wine-glass. 'It never was your privilege, I believe, to see your uncle, Mr.
Silas Ruthyn, of Bartram-Haugh?'

'No--never; he leads so retired--so _very_ retired a life.'

'Oh, no,--of course, no; but I was going to remark a likeness--I mean,
of course, a _family_ likeness--only _that_ sort of thing--you
understand--between him and the profile of Lady Margaret in the
drawing-room--is not it Lady Margaret?--which you were so good as to show
me on Wednesday last. There certainly _is_ a likeness. I _think_ you would
agree with me, if you had the pleasure of seeing your uncle.'

'You know him, then? I have never seen him.'

'Oh dear, yes--I am happy to say, I know him very well. I have that
privilege. I was for three years curate of Feltram, and I had the honour of
being a pretty constant visitor at Bartram-Haugh during that, I may say,
protracted period; and I think it really never has been my privilege and
happiness, I may say, to enjoy the acquaintance and society of so very
experienced a Christian, as my admirable friend, I may call him, Mr.
Ruthyn, of Bartram-Haugh. I look upon him, I do assure you, quite in the
light of a saint; not, of course, in the Popish sense, but in the very
highest, you will understand me, which _our_ Church allows,--a man built up
in faith--full of faith--faith and grace--altogether exemplary; and I
often ventured to regret, Miss Ruthyn, that Providence in its mysterious
dispensations should have placed him so far apart from his brother, your
respected father. His influence and opportunities would, no doubt, we may
venture to hope, at least have been blessed; and, perhaps, we--my valued
rector and I--might possibly have seen more of him at church, than, I
deeply regret, we _have_ done.' He shook his head a little, as he smiled
with a sad complacency on me through his blue steel spectacles, and then
sipped a little meditative sherry.

'And you saw a good deal of my uncle?'

'Well, a _good_ deal, Miss Ruthyn--I may say a _good_ deal--principally at
his own house. His health is wretched--miserable health--a sadly afflicted
man he has been, as, no doubt, you are aware. But afflictions, my dear Miss
Ruthyn, as you remember Doctor Clay so well remarked on Sunday last, though
birds of ill omen, yet spiritually resemble the ravens who supplied the
prophet; and when they visit the faithful, come charged with nourishment
for the soul.

'He is a good deal embarrassed pecuniarily, I should say,' continued the
curate, who was rather a good man than a very well-bred one. 'He found a
difficulty--in fact it was not in his power--to subscribe generally to our
little funds, and--and objects, and I used to say to him, and I really felt
it, that it was more gratifying, such were his feeling and his power of
expression, to be refused by him than assisted by others.'

'Did papa wish you to speak to me about my uncle?' I enquired, as a sudden
thought struck me; and then I felt half ashamed of my question.

He looked surprised.

'No, Miss Ruthyn, certainly not. Oh dear, no. It was merely a conversation
between Mr. Ruthyn and me. He never suggested my opening that, or indeed
any other point in my interview with you, Miss Ruthyn--not the least.'

'I was not aware before that Uncle Silas was so religious.'

He smiled tranquilly, not quite up to the ceiling, but gently upward, and
shook his head in pity for my previous ignorance, as he lowered his eyes--

'I don't say that there may not be some little matters in a few points of
doctrine which we could, perhaps, wish otherwise. But these, you know,
are speculative, and in all essentials he is Church--not in the perverted
modern sense; far from it--unexceptionably Church, strictly so. Would there
were more among us of the same mind that is in him! Ay, Miss Ruthyn, even
in the highest places of the Church herself.'

The Rev. William Fairfield, while fighting against the Dissenters with his
right hand, was, with his left, hotly engaged with the Tractarians. A good
man I am sure he was, and I dare say sound in doctrine, though naturally, I
think, not very wise. This conversation with him gave me new ideas about my
uncle Silas. It quite agreed with what my father had said. These principles
and his increasing years would necessarily quiet the turbulence of his
resistance to injustice, and teach him to acquiesce in his fate.

You would have fancied that one so young as I, born to wealth so vast, and
living a life of such entire seclusion, would have been exempt from care.
But you have seen how troubled my life was with fear and anxiety during the
residence of Madame de la Rougierre, and now there rested upon my mind a
vague and awful anticipation of the trial which my father had announced,
without defining it.

An 'ordeal' he called it, requiring not only zeal but nerve, which might
possibly, were my courage to fail, become frightful, and even intolerable.
What, and of what nature, could it be? Not designed to vindicate the fair
fame of the meek and submissive old man--who, it seemed, had ceased to care
for his bygone wrongs, and was looking to futurity--but the reputation of
our ancient family.

Sometimes I repented my temerity in having undertaken it. I distrusted my
courage. Had I not better retreat, while it was yet time? But there was
shame and even difficulty in the thought. How should I appear before my
father? Was it not important--had I not deliberately undertaken it--and was
I not bound in conscience? Perhaps he had already taken steps in the matter
which committed _him_. Besides, was I sure that, even were I free again, I
would not once more devote myself to the trial, be it what it might?
You perceive I had more spirit than courage. I think I had the mental
attributes of courage; but then I was but a hysterical girl, and in so far
neither more nor less than a coward.

No wonder I distrusted myself; no wonder also my will stood out against
my timidity. It was a struggle, then; a proud, wild resolve against
constitutional cowardice.

Those who have ever had cast upon them more than their strength
seemed framed to bear--the weak, the aspiring, the adventurous and
self-sacrificing in will, and the faltering in nerve--will understand the
kind of agony which I sometimes endured.

But, again, consolation would come, and it seemed to me that I must be
exaggerating my risk in the coming crisis; and certain at least, if my
father believed it attended with real peril, he would never have wished
to see me involved in it. But the silence under which I was bound was
terrifying--double so when the danger was so shapeless and undivulged.

I was soon to understand it all--soon, too, to know all about my father's
impending journey, whither, with what visitor, and why guarded from me with
so awful a mystery.

That day there came a lively and goodnatured letter from Lady Knollys. She
was to arrive at Knowl in two or three days' time. I thought my father
would have been pleased, but he seemed apathetic and dejected.

'One does not always feel quite equal to Monica. But for you--yes, thank
God. I wish she could only stay, Maud, for a month or two; I may be going
then, and would be glad--provided she talks about suitable things--very
glad, Maud, to leave her with you for a week or so.'

There was something, I thought, agitating my father secretly that day. He
had the strange hectic flush I had observed when he grew excited in our
interview in the garden about Uncle Silas. There was something painful,
perhaps even terrible, in the circumstances of the journey he was about
to make, and from my heart I wished the suspense were over, the annoyance
past, and he returned.

That night my father bid me good-night early and went upstairs. After I
had been in bed some little time, I heard his hand-bell ring. This was not
usual. Shortly after I heard his man, Ridley, talking with Mrs. Rusk in
the gallery. I could not be mistaken in their voices. I knew not why I was
startled and excited, and had raised myself to listen on my elbow. But they
were talking quietly, like persons giving or taking an ordinary direction,
and not in the haste of an unusual emergency.

Then I heard the man bid Mrs. Rusk good-night and walk down the gallery
to the stairs, so that I concluded he was wanted no more, and all must
therefore be well. So I laid myself down again, though with a throbbing at
my heart, and an ominous feeling of expectation, listening and fancying
footsteps.

I was going to sleep when I heard the bell ring again; and, in a few
minutes, Mrs. Rusk's energetic step passed along the gallery; and,
listening intently, I heard, or fancied, my father's voice and hers in
dialogue. All this was very unusual, and again I was, with a beating heart,
leaning with my elbow on my pillow.

Mrs. Rusk came along the gallery in a minute or so after, and stopping at
my door, began to open it gently. I was startled, and challenged my visitor
with--

'Who's there?'

'It's only Rusk, Miss. Dearie me! and are you awake still?'

'Is papa ill?'

'Ill! not a bit ill, thank God. Only there's a little black book as I took
for your prayer-book, and brought in here; ay, here it is, sure enough, and
he wants it. And then I must go down to the study, and look out this one,
"C, 15;" but I can't read the name, noways; and I was afraid to ask him
again; if you be so kind to read it, Miss--I suspeck my eyes is a-going.'

I read the name; and Mrs. Rusk was tolerably expert at finding out books,
as she had often been employed in that way before. So she departed.

I suppose that this particular volume was hard to find, for she must have
been a long time away, and I had actually fallen into a doze when I was
roused in an instant by a dreadful crash and a piercing scream from Mrs.
Rusk. Scream followed scream, wilder and more terror-stricken. I shrieked
to Mary Quince, who was sleeping in the room with me:--'Mary, do you hear?
what is it? It is something dreadful.'

The crash was so tremendous that the solid flooring even of my room
trembled under it, and to me it seemed as if some heavy man had burst
through the top of the window, and shook the whole house with his descent.
I found myself standing at my own door, crying, 'Help, help! murder!
murder!' and Mary Quince, frightened half out of her wits, by my side.

I could not think what was going on. It was plainly something most
horrible, for Mrs. Rusk's screams pealed one after the other unabated,
though with a muffled sound, as if the door was shut upon her; and by this
time the bells of my father's room were ringing madly.

'They are trying to murder him!' I cried, and I ran along the gallery to
his door, followed by Mary Quince, whose white face I shall never forget,
though her entreaties only sounded like unmeaning noises in my ears.

'Here! help, help, help!' I cried, trying to force open the door.

'Shove it, shove it, for God's sake! he's across it,' cried Mrs. Rusk's
voice from within; 'drive it in. I can't move him.'

I strained all I could at the door, but ineffectually. We heard steps
approaching. The men were running to the spot, and shouting as they did
so--

'Never mind; hold on a bit; here we are; all right;' and the like.

We drew back, as they came up. We were in no condition to be seen. We
listened, however, at my open door.

Then came the straining and bumping at the door. Mrs. Rusk's voice subsided
to a sort of wailing; the men were talking all together, and I suppose the
door opened, for I heard some of the voices, on a sudden, as if in the
room; and then came a strange lull, and talking in very low tones, and not
much even of that.

'What is it, Mary? what _can_ it be?' I ejaculated, not knowing what horror
to suppose. And now, with a counterpane about my shoulders, I called loudly
and imploringly, in my horror, to know what had happened.

But I heard only the subdued and eager talk of men engaged in some
absorbing task, and the dull sounds of some heavy body being moved.

Mrs. Rusk came towards us looking half wild, and pale as a spectre, and
putting her thin hands to my shoulders, she said--'Now, Miss Maud, darling,
you must go back again; 'tisn't no place for you; you'll see all, my
darling, time enough--you will. There now, there, like a dear, do get into
your room.'

What was that dreadful sound? Who had entered my father's chamber? It was
the visitor whom we had so long expected, with whom he was to make the
unknown journey, leaving me alone. The intruder was Death!




CHAPTER XXI

_ARRIVALS_


My father was dead--as suddenly as if he had been murdered. One of those
fearful aneurisms that lie close to the heart, showing no outward sign of
giving way in a moment, had been detected a good time since by Dr. Bryerly.
My father knew what must happen, and that it could not be long deferred.
He feared to tell me that he was soon to die. He hinted it only in the
allegory of his journey, and left in that sad enigma some words of true
consolation that remained with me ever after. Under his rugged ways was
hidden a wonderful tenderness. I could not believe that he was actually
dead. Most people for a minute or two, in the wild tumult of such a shock,
have experienced the same skepticism. I insisted that the doctor should be
instantly sent for from the village.

'Well, Miss Maud, dear, I _will_ send to please you, but it is all to no
use. If only you saw him yourself you'd know that. Mary Quince, run you
down and tell Thomas, Miss Maud desires he'll go down this minute to the
village for Dr. Elweys.'

Every minute of the interval seemed to me like an hour. I don't know what
I said, but I fancied that if he were not already dead, he would lose his
life by the delay. I suppose I was speaking very wildly, for Mrs. Rusk
said--

'My dear child, you ought to come in and see him; indeed but you should,
Miss Maud. He's quite dead an hour ago. You'd wonder all the blood that's
come from him--you would indeed; it's soaked through the bed already.'

'Oh, don't, don't, _don't_, Mrs. Rusk.'

'Will you come in and see him, just?

'Oh, no, no, no, no!'

'Well, then, my dear, don't of course, if you don't like; there's no need.
Would not you like to lie down, Miss Maud? Mary Quince, attend to her. I
must go into the room for a minute or two.'

I was walking up and down the room in distraction. It was a cool night; but
I did not feel it. I could only cry:--'Oh, Mary, Mary! what shall I do? Oh,
Mary Quince! what shall I do?'

It seemed to me it must be near daylight by the time the Doctor arrived. I
had dressed myself. I dared not go into the room where my beloved father
lay.

I had gone out of my room to the gallery, where I awaited Dr. Elweys, when
I saw him walking briskly after the servant, his coat buttoned up to his
chin, his hat in his hand, and his bald head shining. I felt myself grow
cold as ice, and colder and colder, and with a sudden sten my heart seemed
to stand still.

I heard him ask the maid who stood at the door, in that low, decisive,
mysterious tone which doctors cultivate--

'In _here_?'

And then, with a nod, I saw him enter.

'Would not you like to see the Doctor, Miss Maud?' asked Mary Quince.

The question roused me a little.

'Thank you, Mary; yes, I must see him.'

And so, in a few minutes, I did. He was very respectful, very sad,
semi-undertakerlike, in air and countenance, but quite explicit. I heard
that my dear father 'had died palpably from the rupture of some great
vessel near the heart.' The disease had, no doubt, been 'long established,
and is in its nature incurable.' It is 'consolatory in these cases that in
the act of dissolution, which is instantaneous, there can be no suffering.'
These, and a few more remarks, were all he had to offer; and having had his
fee from Mrs. Rusk, he, with a respectful melancholy, vanished.

I returned to my room, and broke into paroxysms of grief, and after an hour
or more grew more tranquil.

From Mrs. Rusk I learned that he had seemed very well--better than usual,
indeed--that night, and that on her return from the study with the book
he required, he was noting down, after his wont, some passages which
illustrated the text on which he was employing himself. He took the book,
detaining her in the room, and then mounting on a chair to take down
another book from a shelf, he had fallen, with the dreadful crash I had
heard, dead upon the floor. He fell across the door, which caused the
difficulty in opening it. Mrs. Rusk found she had not strength to force it
open. No wonder she had given way to terror. I think I should have almost
lost my reason.

Everyone knows the reserved aspect and the taciturn mood of the house, one
of whose rooms is tenanted by that mysterious guest.

I do not know how those awful days, and more awful nights, passed over. The
remembrance is repulsive. I hate to think of them. I was soon draped in the
conventional black, with its heavy folds of crape. Lady Knollys came, and
was very kind. She undertook the direction of all those details which were
to me so inexpressibly dreadful. She wrote letters for me beside, and was
really most kind and useful, and her society supported me indescribably.
She was odd, but her eccentricity was leavened with strong common sense;
and I have often thought since with admiration and gratitude of the tact
with which she managed my grief.

There is no dealing with great sorrow as if it were under the control of
our wills. It is a terrible phenomenon, whose laws we must study, and to
whose conditions we must submit, if we would mitigate it. Cousin Monica
talked a great deal of my father. This was easy to her, for her early
recollections were full of him.

One of the terrible dislocations of our habits of mind respecting the dead
is that our earthly future is robbed of them, and we thrown exclusively
upon retrospect. From the long look forward they are removed, and every
plan, imagination, and hope henceforth a silent and empty perspective. But
in the past they are all they ever were. Now let me advise all who would
comfort people in a new bereavement to talk to them, very freely, all they
can, in this way of the dead. They will engage in it with interest, they
will talk of their own recollections of the dead, and listen to yours,
though they become sometimes pleasant, sometimes even laughable. I found it
so. It robbed the calamity of something of its supernatural and horrible
abruptness; it prevented that monotony of object which is to the mind what
it is to the eye, and prepared the faculty for those mesmeric illusions
that derange its sense.

Cousin Monica, I am sure, cheered me wonderfully. I grow to love her more
and more, as I think of all her trouble, care, and kindness.

I had not forgotten my promise to dear papa about the key, concerning which
he had evinced so great an anxiety. It was found in the pocket where he had
desired me to remember he always kept it, except when it was placed, while
he slept, under his pillow.

'And so, my dear, that wicked woman was actually found picking the lock of
your poor papa's desk. I _wonder_ he did not punish her--you know that is
_burglary_.'

'Well, Lady Knollys, you know she is gone, and so I care no more about
her--that is, I mean, I need not fear her.'

'No, my dear, but you must call me Monica--do you mind--I'm your cousin,
and you call me Monica, unless you wish to vex me. No, of course, you need
not be afraid of her. And she's gone. But I'm an old thing, you know, and
not so tender-hearted as you; and I confess I should have been very glad to
hear that the wicked old witch had been sent to prison and hard labour--I
should. And what do you suppose she was looking for--what did she want to
steal? I think I can guess--what do _you_ think?'

'To read the papers; maybe to take bank-notes--I'm not sure,' I answered.

'Well, I think most likely she wanted to get at your poor papa's
_will_--that's _my_ idea.

'There is nothing surprising in the supposition, dear,' she resumed. 'Did
not you read the curious trial at York, the other day? There is nothing
so valuable to steal as a will, when a great deal of property is to be
disposed of by it. Why, you would have given her ever so much money to get
it back again. Suppose you go down, dear--I'll go with you, and open the
cabinet in the study.'

'I don't think I can, for I promised to give the key to Dr. Bryerly, and
the meaning was that _he_ only should open it.'

Cousin Monica uttered an inarticulate 'H'm!' of surprise or disapprobation.

'Has he been written to?'

'No, I do not know his address.'

'Not know his address! come, that is curious,' said Knollys, a little
testily.

I could not--no one now living in the house could furnish even a
conjecture. There was even a dispute as to which train he had gone
by--north or south--they crossed the station at an interval of five
minutes. If Dr. Bryerly had been an evil spirit, evoked by a secret
incantation, there could not have been more complete darkness as to the
immediate process of his approach.

'And how long do you mean to wait, my dear? No matter; at all events you
may open the _desk_; you may find papers to direct you--you may find Dr.
Bryerly's address--you may find, heaven knows what.'

So down we went--I assenting--and we opened the desk. How dreadful the
desecration seems--all privacy abrogated--the shocking compensation for the
silence of death!

Henceforward all is circumstantial evidence--all conjectural--except the
_litera scripta_, and to this evidence every note-book, and every scrap of
paper and private letter, must contribute--ransacked, bare in the light of
day--what it can.

At the top of the desk lay two notes sealed, one to Cousin Monica, the
other to me. Mine was a gentle and loving little farewell--nothing
more--which opened afresh the fountains of my sorrow, and I cried and
sobbed over it bitterly and long. The other was for 'Lady Knollys.' I did
not see how she received it, for I was already absorbed in mine. But in
awhile she came and kissed me in her girlish, goodnatured way. Her eyes
used to fill with tears at sight of my paroxysms of grief. Then she would
begin, 'I remember it was a saying of his,' and so she would repeat
it--something maybe wise, maybe playful, at all events consolatory--and the
circumstances in which she had heard him say it, and then would follow the
recollections suggested by these; and so I was stolen away half by him, and
half by Cousin Monica, from my despair and lamentation.

Along with these lay a large envelope, inscribed with the words 'Directions
to be complied with immediately on my death.' One of which was, 'Let the
event be _forthwith_ published in the _county_ and principal _London_
papers.' This step had been already taken. We found no record of Dr.
Bryerly's address.

We made search everywhere, except in the cabinet, which I would on no
account permit to be opened except, according to his direction, by Dr.
Bryerly's hand. But nowhere was a will, or any document resembling one, to
be found. I had now, therefore, no doubt that his will was placed in the
cabinet.

In the search among my dear father's papers we found two sheafs of letters,
neatly tied up and labelled--these were from my uncle Silas.

My cousin Monica looked down upon these papers with a strange smile; was it
satire--was it that indescribable smile with which a mystery which covers a
long reach of years is sometimes approached?

These were odd letters. If here and there occurred passages that were
querulous and even abject, there were also long passages of manly and
altogether noble sentiment, and the strangest rodomontade and maunderings
about religion. Here and there a letter would gradually transform itself
into a prayer, and end with a doxology and no signature; and some of them
expressed such wild and disordered views respecting religion, as I imagine
he can never have disclosed to good Mr. Fairfield, and which approached
more nearly to the Swedenborg visions than to anything in the Church of
England.

I read these with a solemn interest, but my cousin Monica was not similarly
moved. She read them with the same smile--faint, serenely contemptuous,
I thought--with which she had first looked down upon them. It was the
countenance of a person who amusedly traces the working of a character that
is well understood.

'Uncle Silas is very religious?' I said, not quite liking Lady Knollys'
looks.

'Very,' she said, without raising her eyes or abating her old bitter smile,
as she glanced over a passage in one of his letters.

'You don't think he _is_, Cousin Monica?' said I. She raised her head and
looked straight at me.

'Why do you say that, Maud?'

'Because you smile incredulously, I think, over his letters.'

'Do I?' said she; 'I was not thinking--it was quite an accident. The fact
is, Maud, your poor papa quite mistook me. I had no prejudice respecting
him--no theory. I never knew what to think about him. I do not think
Silas a product of nature, but a child of the Sphinx, and I never could
understand him--that's all.'

'I always felt so too; but that was because I was left to speculation, and
to glean conjectures as I might from his portrait, or anywhere. Except what
you told me, I never heard more than a few sentences; poor papa did not
like me to ask questions about him, and I think he ordered the servants to
be silent.'

'And much the same injunction this little note lays upon me--not quite, but
something like it; and I don't know the meaning of it.'

And she looked enquiringly at me.

'You are not to be _alarmed_ about your uncle Silas, because your being
afraid would unfit you for an _important service_ which you have undertaken
for your family, the nature of which I shall soon understand, and which,
although it is quite _passive_, would be made very sad if _illusory fears_
were allowed to _steal into your mind_.'

She was looking into the letter in poor papa's handwriting, which she had
found addressed to her in his desk, and emphasised the words, I suppose,
which she quoted from it.

'Have you any idea, Maud, darling, what this _service_ may be?' she
enquired, with a grave and anxious curiosity in her countenance.

'None, Cousin Monica; but I have thought long over my undertaking to do
it, or submit to it, be it what it may; and I will keep the promise I
voluntarily made, although I know what a coward I am, and often distrust my
courage.'

'Well, I am not to frighten you.'

'How could you? Why should I be afraid? _Is_ there anything frightful to be
disclosed? Do tell me--you _must_ tell me.'

'No, darling, I did not mean _that_--I don't mean that;--I could, if I
would; I--I don't know exactly what I meant. But your poor papa knew him
better than I--in fact, I did not know him at all--that is, ever quite
understood him--which your poor papa, I see, had ample opportunities of
doing.' And after a little pause, she added--'So you do not know what you
are expected to do or to undergo.'

'Oh! Cousin Monica, I know you think he committed that murder,' I cried,
starting up, I don't know why, and I felt that I grew deadly pale.

'I don't believe any such thing, you little fool; you must not say such
horrible things, Maud,' she said, rising also, and looking both pale and
angry. 'Shall we go out for a little walk? Come, lock up these papers,
dear, and get your things on; and if that Dr. Bryerly does not turn up
to-morrow, you must send for the Rector, good Doctor Clay, and let him make
search for the will--there may be directions about many things, you know;
and, my dear Maud, you are to remember that Silas is _my_ cousin as well as
your uncle. Come, dear, put on your hat.'

So we went out together for a little cloistered walk.




CHAPTER XXII

_SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM WITH THE COFFIN_


When we returned, a 'young' gentleman had arrived. We saw him in the
parlour as we passed the window. It was simply a glance, but such a one
as suffices to make a photograph, which we can study afterwards, at our
leisure. I remember him at this moment--a man of six-and-thirty--dressed in
a grey travelling suit, not over-well made; light-haired, fat-faced,
and clumsy; and he looked both dull and cunning, and not at all like a
gentleman.

Branston met us, announced the arrival, and handed me the stranger's
credentials. My cousin and I stopped in the passage to read them.

'_That's_ your uncle Silas's,' said Lady Knollys, touching one of the two
letters with the tip of her finger.

'Shall we have lunch, Miss?'

'Certainly.' So Branston departed.

'Read it with me, Cousin Monica,' I said. And a very curious letter it was.
It spoke as follows:--

'How can I thank my beloved niece for remembering her aged and forlorn
kinsman at such a moment of anguish?'

I had written a note of a few, I dare say, incoherent words by the next
post after my dear father's death.

'It is, however, in the hour of bereavement that we most value the ties
that are broken, and yearn for the sympathy of kindred.'

Here came a little distich of French verse, of which I could only read
_ciel_ and _l'amour_.

'Our quiet household here is clouded with a new sorrow. How inscrutable are
the ways of Providence! I--though a few years younger--how much the more
infirm--how shattered in energy and in mind--how mere a burden--how
entirely _de trop_--am spared to my sad place in a world where I can be no
longer useful, where I have but one business--prayer, but one hope--the
tomb; and he--apparently so robust--the centre of so much good--so
necessary to you--so necessary, alas! to me--is taken! He is gone to his
rest--for us, what remains but to bow our heads, and murmur, "His will be
done"? I trace these lines with a trembling hand, while tears dim my
old eyes. I did not think that any earthly event could have moved me so
profoundly. From the world I have long stood aloof. I once led a life of
pleasure--alas! of wickedness--as I now do one of austerity; but as I never
was rich, so my worst enemy will allow I never was avaricious. My sins, I
thank my Maker, have been of a more reducible kind, and have succumbed to
the discipline which Heaven has provided. To earth and its interests, as
well as to its pleasures, I have long been dead. For the few remaining
years of my life I ask but quiet--an exemption from the agitations and
distractions of struggle and care, and I trust to the Giver of all Good for
my deliverance--well knowing, at the same time, that whatever befalls will,
under His direction, prove best. Happy shall I be, my dearest niece, if in
your most interesting and, in some respects, forlorn situation, I can be
of any use to you. My present religious adviser--of whom I ventured to ask
counsel on your behalf--states that I ought to send some one to represent
me at the melancholy ceremony of reading the will which my beloved and now
happy brother has, no doubt, left behind; and the idea that the experience
and professional knowledge possessed by the gentleman whom I have selected
may possibly be of use to you, my dearest niece, determines me to place
him at your disposal. He is the junior partner in the firm of Archer and
Sleigh, who conduct any little business which I may have from time to time;
may I entreat your hospitality for him during a brief stay at Knowl? I
write, even for a moment, upon these small matters of business with
an effort--a painful one, but necessary. Alas! my brother! The cup of
bitterness is now full. Few and evil must the remainder of my old days be.
Yet, while they last, I remain always for my beloved niece, that which all
her wealth and splendour cannot purchase--a loving and faithful kinsman and
friend,

SILAS RUTHYN.'

'Is not it a kind letter?' I said, while tears stood in my eyes.

'Yes,' answered Lady Knollys, drily.

'But don't you think it so, really?'

'Oh! kind, very kind,' she answered in the same tone, 'and perhaps a little
cunning.'

'Cunning!--how?'

'Well, you know I'm a peevish old Tabby, and of course I scratch now and
then, and see in the dark. I dare say Silas is sorry, but I don't think he
is in sackcloth and ashes. He has reason to be sorry and anxious, and I say
I think he is both; and you know he pities you very much, and also himself
a good deal; and he wants money, and you--his beloved niece--have a great
deal--and altogether it is an affectionate and prudent letter: and he has
sent his attorney here to make a note of the will; and you are to give the
gentleman his meals and lodging; and Silas, very thoughtfully, invites you
to confide your difficulties and troubles to _his_ solicitor. It is very
kind, but not imprudent.'

'Oh, Cousin Monica, don't you think at such a moment it is hardly natural
that he should form such petty schemes, even were he capable at other times
of practising so low? Is it not judging him hardly? and you, you know, so
little acquainted with him.'

'I told you, dear, I'm a cross old thing--and there's an end; and I really
don't care two pence about him; and of the two I'd much rather he were no
relation of ours.'

Now, was not this prejudice? I dare say in part it was. So, too, was
my vehement predisposition in his favour. I am afraid we women are
factionists; we always take a side, and nature has formed us for advocates
rather than judges; and I think the function, if less dignified, is more
amiable.

I sat alone at the drawing-room window, at nightfall, awaiting my cousin
Monica's entrance.

Feverish and frightened I felt that night. It was a sympathy, I fancy, with
the weather. The sun had set stormily. Though the air was still, the sky
looked wild and storm-swept. The crowding clouds, slanting in the attitude
of flight, reflected their own sacred aspect upon my spirits. My grief
darkened with a wild presaging of danger, and a sense of the supernatural
fell upon me. It was the saddest and most awful evening that had come since
my beloved father's death.

All kinds of shapeless fears environed me in silence. For the first time,
dire misgivings about the form of faith affrighted me. Who were these
Swedenborgians who had got about him--no one could tell how--and held
him so fast to the close of his life? Who was this bilious, bewigged,
black-eyed Doctor Bryerly, whom none of us quite liked and all a little
feared; who seemed to rise out of the ground, and came and went, no one
knew whence or whither, exercising, as I imagined, a mysterious authority
over him? Was it all good and true, or a heresy and a witchcraft? Oh, my
beloved father! was it all well with you?

When Lady Knollys entered, she found me in floods of tears, walking
distractedly up and down the room. She kissed me in silence; she walked
back and forward with me, and did her best to console me.

'I think, Cousin Monica, I would wish to see him once more. Shall we go
up?'

'Unless you really wish it very much, I think, darling, you had better not
mind it. It is happier to recollect them as they were; there's a change,
you know, darling, and there is seldom any comfort in the sight.'

'But I do wish it _very_ much. Oh! won't you come with me?'

And so I persuaded her, and up we went hand in hand, in the deepening
twilight; and we halted at the end of the dark gallery, and I called Mrs.
Rusk, growing frightened.

'Tell her to let us in, Cousin Monica,' I whispered.

'She wishes to see him, my lady--does she?' enquired Mrs. Rusk, in an
under-tone, and with a mysterious glance at me, as she softly fitted the
key to the lock.

'Are you quite sure, Maud, dear?'

'Yes, yes.'

But when Mrs. Rusk entered bearing the candle, whose beam mixed dismally
with the expiring twilight, disclosing a great black coffin standing upon
trestles, near the foot of which she took her stand, gazing sternly into
it, I lost heart again altogether and drew back.

'No, Mrs. Rusk, she won't; and I am very glad, dear,' she added to me.
'Come, Mrs. Rusk, come away. Yes, darling,' she continued to me, 'it is
much better for you;' and she hurried me away, and down-stairs again. But
the awful outlines of that large black coffin remained upon my imagination
with a new and terrible sense of death.

I had no more any wish to see him. I felt a horror even of the room, and
for more than an hour after a kind of despair and terror, such as I have
never experienced before or since at the idea of death.

Cousin Monica had had her bed placed in my room, and Mary Quince's moved to
the dressing-room adjoining it. For the first time the superstitious awe
that follows death, but not immediately, visited me. The idea of seeing my
father enter the room, or open the door and look in, haunted me. After Lady
Knollys and I were in bed, I could not sleep. The wind sounded mournfully
outside, and the small sounds, the rattlings, and strainings that responded
from within, constantly startled me, and simulated the sounds of steps, of
doors opening, of knockings, and so forth, rousing me with a palpitating
heart as often as I fell into a doze.

At length the wind subsided, and these ambiguous noises abated, and I,
fatigued, dropped into a quiet sleep. I was awakened by a sound in the
gallery--which I could not define. A considerable time had passed, for the
wind was now quite lulled. I sat up in my bed a good deal scared, listening
breathlessly for I knew not what.

I heard a step moving stealthily along the gallery. I called my cousin
Monica softly; and we both heard the door of the room in which my father's
body lay unlocked, some one furtively enter, and the door shut.

'What can it be? Good Heavens, Cousin Monica, do you hear it?'

'Yes, dear; and it is two o'clock.'

Everyone at Knowl was in bed at eleven. We knew very well that Mrs. Rusk
was rather nervous, and would not, for worlds, go alone, and at such an
hour, to the room. We called Mary Quince. We all three listened, but we
heard no other sound. I set these things down here because they made so
terrible an impression upon me at the time.

It ended by our peeping out, all three in a body, upon the gallery. Through
each window in the perspective came its blue sheet of moonshine; but the
door on which our attention was fixed was in the shade, and we thought we
could discern the glare of a candle through the key-hole. While in whispers
we were debating this point together, the door opened, the dusky light of
a candle emerged, the shadow of a figure crossed it within, and in another
moment the mysterious Doctor Bryerly--angular, ungainly, in the black cloth
coat that fitted little better than a coffin--issued from the chamber,
candle in hand; murmuring, I suppose, a prayer--it sounded like a
farewell--as much frightened as if I had just seen a sorcerer stealing
stepped cautiously upon the gallery floor, shutting and locking the door
upon the dead; and then having listened for a second, the saturnine figure,
casting a gigantic and distorted shadow upon the ceiling and side-wall from
the lowered candle, strode lightly down the long dark passage, away from
us.

I can only speak for myself, and I can honestly say that I felt as much
frightened as if I had just seen a sorcerer stealing from his unhallowed
business. I think Cousin Monica was also affected in the same way, for she
turned the key on the inside of the door when we entered. I do not think
one of us believed at the moment that what we had seen was a Doctor Bryerly
of flesh and blood, and yet the first thing we spoke of in the morning was
Doctor Bryerly's arrival. The mind is a different organ by night and by
day.




CHAPTER XXIII

_I TALK WITH DOCTOR BRYERLY_


Doctor Bryerly had, indeed, arrived at half-past twelve o'clock at night.
His summons at the hall-door was little heard at our remote side of the old
house of Knowl; and when the sleepy, half-dressed servant opened the
door, the lank Doctor, in glossy black clothing, was standing alone, his
portmanteau on its end upon the steps, and his vehicle disappearing in the
shadows of the old trees.

In he came, sterner and sharper of aspect than usual.

'I've been expected? I'm Doctor Bryerly. Haven't I? So, let whoever is in
charge of the body be called. I must visit it forthwith.'

So the Doctor sat in the back drawing-room, with a solitary candle; and
Mrs. Rusk was called up, and, grumbling much and very peevish, dressed and
went down, her ill-temper subsiding in a sort of fear as she approached the
visitor.

'How do you do, Madam? A sad visit this. Is anyone watching in the room
where the remains of your late master are laid?'

'No.'

'So much the better; it is a foolish custom. Will you please conduct me to
the room? I must pray where he lies--no longer _he_! And be good enough to
show me my bedroom, and so no one need wait up, and I shall find my way.'

Accompanied by the man who carried his valise, Mrs. Rusk showed him to his
apartment; but he only looked in, and then glanced rapidly about to take
'the bearings' of the door.

'Thank you--yes. Now we'll proceed, here, along here? Let me see. A turn to
the right and another to the left--yes. He has been dead some days. Is he
yet in his coffin?'

'Yes, sir; since yesterday afternoon.'

Mrs. Rusk was growing more and more afraid of this lean figure sheathed in
shining black cloth, whose eyes glittered with a horrible sort of cunning,
and whose long brown fingers groped before him, as if indicating the way by
guess.

'But, of course, the lid's not on; you've not screwed him down, hey?'

'No, sir.'

'That's well. I must look on the face as I pray. He is in his place; I here
on earth. He in the spirit; I in the flesh. The neutral ground lies there.
So are carried the vibrations, and so the light of earth and heaven
reflected back and forward--apaugasma, a wonderful though helpless engine,
the ladder of Jacob, and behold the angels of God ascending and descending
on it. Thanks, I'll take the key. Mysteries to those who _will_ live
altogether in houses of clay, no mystery to such as will use their eyes and
read what is revealed. _This_ candle, it is the longer, please; no--no need
of a pair, thanks; just this, to hold in my hand. And remember, all depends
upon the willing mind. Why do you look frightened? Where is your faith?
Don't you know that spirits are about us at all times? Why should you
fear to be near the body? The spirit is everything; the flesh profiteth
nothing.'

'Yes, sir,' said Mrs. Rusk, making him a great courtesy in the threshold.

She was frightened by his eerie talk, which grew, she fancied, more voluble
and energetic as they approached the corpse.

'Remember, then, that when you fancy yourself alone and wrapt in darkness,
you stand, in fact, in the centre of a theatre, as wide as the starry floor
of heaven, with an audience, whom no man can number, beholding you under a
flood of light. Therefore, though your body be in solitude and your mortal
sense in darkness, remember to walk as being in the light, surrounded with
a cloud of witnesses. Thus walk; and when the hour comes, and you pass
forth unprisoned from the tabernacle of the flesh, although it still has
its relations and its rights'--and saying this, as he held the solitary
candle aloft in the doorway, he nodded towards the coffin, whose large
black form was faintly traceable against the shadows beyond--'you will
rejoice; and being clothed upon with your house from on high, you will not
be found naked. On the other hand, he that loveth corruption shall have
enough thereof. Think upon these things. Good-night.'

And the Swedenborgian Doctor stepped into the room, taking the candle with
him, and closed the door upon the shadowy still-life there, and on his own
sharp and swarthy visage, leaving Mrs. Rusk in a sort of panic in the dark
alone, to find her way to her room the best way she could.

Early in the morning Mrs. Rusk came to my room to tell me that Doctor
Bryerly was in the parlour, and begged to know whether I had not a message
for him. I was already dressed, so, though it was dreadful seeing a
stranger in my then mood, taking the key of the cabinet in my hand, I
followed Mrs. Rusk downstairs.

Opening the parlour door, she stepped in, and with a little courtesy
said,--

'Please, sir, the young mistress--Miss Ruthyn.'

Draped in black and very pale, tall and slight, 'the young mistress'
was; and as I entered I heard a newspaper rustle, and the sound of steps
approaching to meet me.

Face to face we met, near the door; and, without speaking, I made him a
deep courtesy.

He took my hand, without the least indication on my part, in his hard lean
grasp, and shook it kindly, but familiarly, peering with a stern sort of
curiosity into my face as he continued to hold it. His ill-fitting, glossy
black cloth, ungainly presence, and sharp, dark, vulpine features had in
them, as I said before, the vulgarity of a Glasgow artisan in his Sabbath
suit. I made an instantaneous motion to withdraw my hand, but he held it
firmly.

Though there was a grim sort of familiarity, there was also decision,
shrewdness, and, above all, kindness, in his dark face--a gleam on the
whole of the masterly and the honest--that along with a certain paleness,
betraying, I thought, restrained emotion, indicated sympathy and invited
confidence.

'I hope, Miss, you are pretty well?' He pronounced 'pretty' as it is spelt.
'I have come in consequence of a solemn promise exacted more than a year
since by your deceased father, the late Mr. Austin Ruthyn of Knowl, for
whom I cherished a warm esteem, being knit besides with him in spiritual
bonds. It has been a shock to you, Miss?'

'It has, indeed, sir.'

'I've a doctor's degree, I have--Doctor of Medicine, Miss. Like St. Luke,
preacher and doctor. I was in business once, but this is better. As one
footing fails, the Lord provides another. The stream of life is black and
angry; how so many of us get across without drowning, I often wonder. The
best way is not to look too far before--just from one stepping-stone to
another; and though you may wet your feet, He won't let you drown--He has
not allowed me.'

And Doctor Bryerly held up his head, and wagged it resolutely.

'You are born to this world's wealth; in its way a great blessing, though a
great trial, Miss, and a great trust; but don't suppose you are destined
to exemption from trouble on that account, any more than poor Emmanuel
Bryerly. As the sparks fly upwards, Miss Ruthyn! Your cushioned carriage
may overturn on the highroad, as I may stumble and fall upon the footpath.
There are other troubles than debt and privation. Who can tell how
long health may last, or when an accident may happen the brain; what
mortifications may await you in your own high sphere; what unknown enemies
may rise up in your path; or what slanders may asperse your name--ha, ha!
It is a wonderful equilibrium--a marvellous dispensation--ha, ha!' and he
laughed with a shake of his head, I thought a little sarcastically, as if
he was not sorry my money could not avail to buy immunity from the general
curse.

'But what money can't do, _prayer_ can--bear that in mind, Miss Ruthyn. We
can all pray; and though thorns and snares, and stones of fire lie strewn
in our way, we need not fear them. He will give His angels charge over us,
and in their hands they will bear us up, for He hears and sees everywhere,
and His angels are innumerable.'

He was now speaking gently and solemnly, and paused. But another vein of
thought he had unconsciously opened in my mind, and I said--

'And had my dear papa no other medical adviser?'

He looked at me sharply, and flushed a little under his dark tint. His
medical skill was, perhaps, the point on which his human vanity vaunted
itself, and I dare say there was something very disparaging in my tone.

'And if he _had_ no other, he might have done worse. I've had many critical
cases in my hands, Miss Ruthyn. I can't charge myself with any miscarriage
through ignorance. My diagnosis in Mr. Ruthyn's case has been verified by
the result. But I was _not_ alone; Sir Clayton Barrow saw him, and took my
view; a note will reach him in London. But this, excuse me, is not to the
present purpose. The late Mr. Ruthyn told me I was to receive a key
from you, which would open a cabinet where he had placed his will--ha!
thanks,--in his study. And, I think, as there may be directions about
the funeral, it had better be read forthwith. Is there any gentleman--a
relative or man of business--near here, whom you would wish sent for?'

'No, none, thank you; I have confidence in you, sir.'

I think I spoke and looked frankly, for he smiled very kindly, though with
closed lips.

'And you may be sure, Miss Ruthyn, your confidence shall not be
disappointed.' Here was a long pause. 'But you are very young, and you must
have some one by in your interest, who has some experience in business. Let
me see. Is not the Rector, Dr. Clay, at hand? In the town?--very good; and
Mr. Danvers, who manages the estate, _he_ must come. And get Grimston--you
see I know all the names--Grimston, the attorney; for though he was not
employed about this will, he has been Mr. Ruthyn's solicitor a great many
years: we must have Grimston; for, as I suppose you know, though it is a
short will, it is a very strange one. I expostulated, but you know he was
very decided when he took a view. He read it to you, eh?'

'No, sir.'

'Oh, but he told you so much as relates to you and your uncle, Mr. Silas
Ruthyn, of Bartram-Haugh?'

'No, indeed, sir.'

'Ha! I wish he had.'

And with these words Doctor Bryerly's countenance darkened.

'Mr. Silas Ruthyn is a religious man?'

'Oh, _very_!' said I.

'You've seen a good deal of him?'

'No, I never saw him,' I answered.

'H'm? Odder and odder! But he's a good man, isn't he?'

'Very good, indeed, sir--a very religious man.'

Doctor Bryerly was watching my countenance as I spoke, with a sharp and
anxious eye; and then he looked down, and read the pattern of the carpet
like bad news, for a while, and looking again in my face, askance, he
said--

'He was very near joining _us_--on the point. He got into correspondence
with Henry Voerst, one of our best men. They call us Swedenborgians, you
know; but I dare say that won't go much further, now. I suppose, Miss
Ruthyn, one o'clock would be a good hour, and I am sure, under the
circumstances, the gentlemen will make a point of attending.'

'Yes, Dr. Bryerly, the notes shall be sent, and my cousin, Lady Knollys,
would I am sure attend with me while the will is being read--there would be
no objection to her presence?'

'None in the world. I can't be quite sure who are joined with me as
executors. I'm almost sorry I did not decline; but it is too late
regretting. One thing you must believe Miss Ruthyn: in framing the
provisions of the will I was never consulted--although I expostulated
against the only very unusual one it contains when I heard it. I did
so strenuously, but in vain. There was one other against which I
protested--having a right to do so--with better effect. In no other way
does the will in any respect owe anything to my advice or dissuasion. You
will please believe this; also that I am your friend. Yes, indeed, it is my
duty.'

The latter words he spoke looking down again, as it were in soliloquy; and
thanking him, I withdrew.

When I reached the hall, I regretted that I had not asked him to state
distinctly what arrangements the will made so nearly affecting, as it
seemed, my relations with my uncle Silas, and for a moment I thought of
returning and requesting an explanation. But then, I bethought me, it was
not very long to wait till one o'clock--so _he_, at least, would think. I
went up-stairs, therefore, to the 'school-room,' which we used at present
as a sitting-room, and there I found Cousin Monica awaiting me.

'Are you quite well, dear?' asked Lady Knollys, as she came to meet and
kiss me.

'Quite well, Cousin Monica.'

'No nonsense, Maud! you're as white as that handkerchief--what's the
matter? Are you ill--are you frightened? Yes, you're trembling--you're
terrified, child.'

'I believe I _am_ afraid. There _is_ something in poor papa's will about
Uncle Silas--about _me_. I don't know--Doctor Bryerly says, and he seems so
uncomfortable and frightened himself, I am sure it is something very bad. I
am _very_ much frightened--I am--I _am_. Oh, Cousin Monica! you won't leave
me?'

So I threw my arms about her neck, clasping her very close, and we kissed
one another, I crying like a frightened child--and indeed in experience of
the world I was no more.




CHAPTER XXIV

_THE OPENING OF THE WILL_


Perhaps the terror with which I anticipated the hour of one, and the
disclosure of the unknown undertaking to which I had bound myself, was
irrational and morbid. But, honestly, I doubt it; my tendency has always
been that of many other weak characters, to act impetuously, and afterwards
to reproach myself for consequences which I have, perhaps, in reality, had
little or no share in producing.

It was Doctor Bryerly's countenance and manner in alluding to a particular
provision in my father's will that instinctively awed me. I have seen faces
in a nightmare that haunted me with an indescribable horror, and yet I
could not say wherein lay the fascination. And so it was with his--an omen,
a menace, lurked in its sallow and dismal glance.

'You must not be so frightened, darling,' said Cousin Monica. 'It is
foolish; it _is, really_; they can't cut off your head, you know: they
can't really harm you in any essential way. If it involved a risk of a
little money, you would not mind it; but men are such odd creatures--they
measure all sacrifices by money. Doctor Bryerly would look just as you
describe, if you were doomed to lose 500_l_., and yet it would not kill
you.'

A companion like Lady Knollys is reassuring; but I could not take her
comfort altogether to heart, for I felt that she had no great confidence in
it herself.

There was a little French clock over the mantelpiece in the school-room,
which I consulted nearly every minute. It wanted now but ten minutes of
one.

'Shall we go down to the drawing-room, dear?' said Cousin Knollys, who was
growing restless like me.

So down-stairs we went, pausing by mutual consent at the great window at
the stair-head, which looks out on the avenue. Mr. Danvers was riding his
tall, grey horse at a walk, under the wide branches toward the house, and
we waited to see him get off at the door. In his turn he loitered there,
for the good Rector's gig, driven by the Curate, was approaching at a smart
ecclesiastical trot.

Doctor Clay got down, and shook hands with Mr. Danvers; and after a word
or two, away drove the Curate with that upward glance at the windows from
which so few can refrain.

I watched the Rector and Mr. Danvers loitering on the steps as a patient
might the gathering of surgeons who are to perform some unknown operation.
They, too, glanced up at the window as they turned to enter the house, and
I drew back. Cousin Monica looked at her watch.

'Four minutes only. Shall we go to the drawing-room?'

Waiting for a moment to let the gentlemen get by on the way to the study,
we, accordingly, went down, and I heard the Rector talk of the dangerous
state of Grindleston bridge, and wondered how he could think of such things
at a time of sorrow. Everything about those few minutes of suspense remains
fresh in my recollection. I remember how they loitered and came to a halt
at the corner of the oak passage leading to the study, and how the Rector
patted the marble head and smoothed the inflexible tresses of William Pitt,
as he listened to Mr. Danvers' details about the presentment; and then,
as they went on, I recollect the boisterous nose-blowing that suddenly
resounded from the passage, and which I then referred, and still refer,
intuitively to the Rector.

We had not been five minutes in the drawing-room when Branston entered, to
say that the gentlemen I had mentioned were all assembled in the study.

'Come, dear,' said Cousin Monica; and leaning on her arm I reached the
study door. I entered, followed by her. The gentlemen arrested their talk
and stood up, those who were sitting, and the Rector came forward very
gravely, and in low tones, and very kindly, greeted me. There was nothing
emotional in this salutation, for though my father never quarrelled, yet an
immense distance separated him from all his neighbours, and I do not think
there lived a human being who knew him at more than perhaps a point or two
of his character.

Considering how entirely he secluded himself, my father was, as many people
living remember, wonderfully popular in his county. He was neighbourly
in everything except in seeing company and mixing in society. He had
magnificent shooting, of which he was extremely liberal. He kept a pack of
hounds at Dollerton, with which all his side of the county hunted through
the season. He never refused any claim upon his purse which had the
slightest show of reason. He subscribed to every fund, social, charitable,
sporting, agricultural, no matter what, provided the honest people of
his county took an interest in it, and always with a princely hand; and
although he shut himself up, no one could say that he was inaccessible,
for he devoted hours daily to answering letters, and his checque-book
contributed largely in those replies. He had taken his turn long ago as
High Sheriff; so there was an end of that claim before his oddity and
shyness had quite secluded him. He refused the Lord-Lieutenancy of his
county; he declined every post of personal distinction connected with it.
He could write an able as well as a genial letter when he pleased; and his
appearances at public meetings, dinners, and so forth were made in
this epistolary fashion, and, when occasion presented, by magnificent
contributions from his purse.

If my father had been less goodnatured in the sporting relations of his
vast estates, or less magnificent in dealing with his fortune, or even if
he had failed to exhibit the intellectual force which always characterised
his letters on public matters, I dare say that his oddities would have
condemned him to ridicule, and possibly to dislike. But every one of the
principal gentlemen of his county, whose judgment was valuable, has told me
that he was a remarkably able man, and that his failure in public life
was due to his eccentricities, and in no respect to deficiency in those
peculiar mental qualities which make men feared and useful in Parliament.

I could not forbear placing on record this testimony to the high mental
and the kindly qualities of my beloved father, who might have passed for
a misanthrope or a fool. He was a man of generous nature and powerful
intellect, but given up to the oddities of a shyness which grew with
years and indulgence, and became inflexible with his disappointments and
affliction.

There was something even in the Rector's kind and ceremonious greeting
which oddly enough reflected the mixed feelings in which awe was not
without a place, with which his neighbours had regarded my dear father.

Having done the honours--I am sure looking woefully pale--I had time to
glance quietly at the only figure there with which I was not tolerably
familiar. This was the junior partner in the firm of Archer and Sleigh who
represented my uncle Silas--a fat and pallid man of six-and-thirty, with
a sly and evil countenance, and it has always seemed to me, that ill
dispositions show more repulsively in a pale fat face than in any other.

Doctor Bryerly, standing near the window, was talking in a low tone to Mr.
Grimston, our attorney.

I heard good Dr. Clay whisper to Mr. Danvers--

'Is not that Doctor Bryerly--the person with the black--the black--it's a
wig, I think--in the window, talking to Abel Grimston?'

'Yes; that's he.'

'Odd-looking person--one of the Swedenborg people, is not he?' continued
the Rector.

'So I am told.'

'Yes,' said the Rector, quietly; and he crossed one gaitered leg over the
other, and, with fingers interlaced, twiddled his thumbs, as he eyed
the monstrous sectary under his orthodox old brows with a stern
inquisitiveness. I thought he was meditating theologic battle.

But Dr. Bryerly and Mr. Grimston, still talking together, began to walk
slowly from the window, and the former said in his peculiar grim tones--

'I beg pardon, Miss Ruthyn; perhaps you would be so good as to show us
which of the cabinets in this room your late lamented father pointed out as
that to which this key belongs.'

I indicated the oak cabinet.

'Very good, ma'am--very good,' said Doctor Bryerly, as he fumbled the key
into the lock.

Cousin Monica could not forbear murmuring--

'Dear! what a brute!'

The junior partner, with his dumpy hands in his pocket, poked his fat face
over Mr. Grimston's shoulder, and peered into the cabinet as the door
opened.

The search was not long. A handsome white paper enclosure, neatly tied up
in pink tape, and sealed with large red seals, was inscribed in my dear
father's hand:--'Will of Austin R. Ruthyn, of Knowl.' Then, in smaller
characters, the date, and in the corner a note--'This will was drawn from
my instructions by Gaunt, Hogg, and Hatchett, Solicitors, Great Woburn
Street, London, A.R.R.'

'Let _me_ have a squint at that indorsement, please, gentlemen,' half
whispered the unpleasant person who represented my uncle Silas.

''_Tisn't_ an indorsement. There, look--a memorandum on an envelope,' said
Abel Grimston, gruffly.

'Thanks--all right--that will do,' he responded, himself making a
pencil-note of it, in a long clasp-book which he drew from his coat-pocket.

The tape was carefully cut, and the envelope removed without tearing the
writing, and forth came the will, at sight of which my heart swelled and
fluttered up to my lips, and then dropped down dead as it seemed into its
place.

'Mr. Grimston, you will please to read it,' said Doctor Bryerly, who took
the direction of the process. 'I will sit beside you, and as we go along
you will be good enough to help us to understand technicalities, and give
us a lift where we want it.' 'It's a short will,' said Mr. Grimston,
turning over the sheets '_very_--considering. Here's a codicil.'

'I did not see that,' said Doctor Bryerly.

'Dated only a month ago.'

'Oh!' said Doctor Bryerly, putting on his spectacles. Uncle Silas's
ambassador, sitting close behind, had insinuated his face between Doctor
Bryerly's and the reader's of the will.

'On behalf of the surviving brother of the testator,' interposed the
delegate, just as Abel Grimston had cleared his voice to begin, 'I take
leave to apply for a copy of this instrument. It will save a deal of
trouble, if the young lady as represents the testator here has no
objection.'

'You can have as many copies as you like when the will is proved,' said Mr.
Grimston.

'I know that; but supposing as all's right, where's the objection?'

'Just the objection there always is to acting irregular,' replied Mr.
Grimston.

'You don't object to act disobliging, it seems.'

'You can do as I told you,' replied Mr. Grimston.

'Thank you for nothing,' murmured Mr. Sleigh.

And the reading of the will proceeded, while he made elaborate notes of its
contents in his capacious pocket-book.

'I, Austin Alymer Ruthyn Ruthyn, being, I thank God, of sound mind and
perfect recollection,' &c, &c.; and then came a bequest of all his
estates real, chattels real, copyrights, leases, chattels, money, rights,
interests, reversions, powers, plate, pictures, and estates and possessions
whatsoever, to four persons--Lord Ilbury, Mr. Penrose Creswell of Creswell,
Sir William Aylmer, Bart., and Hans Emmanuel Bryerly, Doctor of Medicine,
'to have and to hold,' &c. &c. Whereupon my Cousin Monica ejaculated 'Eh?'
and Doctor Bryerly interposed--

'Four trustees, ma'am. We take little but trouble--you'll see; go on.'

Then it came out that all this multifarious splendour was bequeathed in
trust for me, subject to a bequest of 15,000_l_. to his only brother, Silas
Aylmer Ruthyn, and 3,500_l_. each to the two children of his said brother;
and lest any doubt should arise by reason of his, the testator's decease
as to the continuance of the arrangement by way of lease under which
he enjoyed his present habitation and farm, he left him the use of the
mansion-house and lands of Bartram-Haugh, in the county of Derbyshire, and
of the lands of so-and-so and so-and-so, adjoining thereto, in the said
county, for the term of his natural life, on payment of a rent of 5_s_.
per annum, and subject to the like conditions as to waste, &c., as are
expressed in the said lease.

'By your leave, may I ask is them dispositions all the devises to my
client, which is his only brother, as it seems to me you've seen the will
before?' enquired Mr. Sleigh.

'Nothing more, unless there is something in the codicil,' answered Dr.
Bryerly.

But there was no mention of him in the codicil.

Mr. Sleigh threw himself back in his chair, and sneered, with the end of
his pencil between his teeth. I hope his disappointment was altogether for
his client. Mr. Danvers fancied, he afterwards said, that he had probably
expected legacies which might have involved litigation, or, at all events,
law costs, and perhaps a stewardship; but this was very barren; and Mr.
Danvers also remarked, that the man was a very low practitioner, and
wondered how my uncle Silas could have commissioned such a person to
represent him.

So far the will contained nothing of which my most partial friend could
have complained. The codicil, too, devised only legacies to servants, and
a sum of 1,000_l_., with a few kind words, to Monica, Lady Knollys, and
a further sum of 3,000_l_. to Dr. Bryerly, stating that the legatee had
prevailed upon him to erase from the draft of his will a bequest to him to
that amount, but that, in consideration of all the trouble devolving
upon him as trustee, he made that bequest by his codicil; and with these
arrangements the permanent disposition of his property was completed.

But that direction to which he and Doctor Bryerly had darkly alluded, was
now to come, and certainly it was a strange one. It appointed my uncle
Silas my sole guardian, with full parental authority over me until I should
have reached the age of twenty-one, up to which time I was to reside under
his care at Bartram-Haugh, and it directed the trustees to pay over to him
yearly a sum of 2,000_l_. during the continuance of the guardianship for my
suitable maintenance, education, and expenses.

You have now a sufficient outline of my father's will. The only thing I
painfully felt in this arrangement was, the break-up--the dismay that
accompanies the disappearance of home. Otherwise, there was something
rather pleasurable in the idea. As long as I could remember, I had always
cherished the same mysterious curiosity about my uncle, and the same
longing to behold him. This was about to be gratified. Then there was my
cousin Milicent, about my own age. My life had been so lonely, that I
had acquired none of those artificial habits that induce the fine-lady
nature--a second, and not always a very amiable one. She had lived a
solitary life, like me. What rambles and readings we should have together!
what confidences and castle-buildings! and then there was a new country
and a fine old place, and the sense of interest and adventure that always
accompanies change in our early youth.

There were four letters all alike with large, red seals, addressed
respectively to each of the trustees named in the will. There was also one
addressed to Silas Alymer Ruthyn, Esq., Bartram-Haugh Manor, &c. &c., which
Mr. Sleigh offered to deliver. But Doctor Bryerly thought the post-office
was the more regular channel. Uncle Silas's representative was questioning
Doctor Bryerly in an under-tone.

I turned my eyes on my cousin Monica--I felt so inexpressibly
relieved--expecting to see a corresponding expression in her countenance.
But I was startled. She looked ghastly and angry. I stared in her face, not
knowing what to think. Could the will have personally disappointed her?
Such doubts, though we fancy in after-life they belong to maturity and
experience only, do sometimes cross our minds in youth. But the suggestion
wronged Lady Knollys, who neither expected nor wanted anything, being rich,
childless, generous, and frank. It was the unexpected character of
her countenance that scared me, and for a moment the shock called up
corresponding moral images.

Lady Knollys, starting up, raised her head, so as to see over Mr. Sleigh's
shoulder, and biting her pale lip, she cleared her voice and demanded--

'Doctor Bryerly, pray, sir, is the reading concluded?'

'Concluded? Quite. Yes, nothing more,' he answered with a nod, and
continued his talk with Mr. Danvers and Abel Grimston.

'And to whom,' said Lady Knollys, with an effort, 'will the property
belong, in case--in case my little cousin here should die before she comes
of age?'

'Eh? Well--wouldn't it go to the heir-at-law and next of kin?' said Doctor
Bryerly, turning to Abel Grimston.

'Ay--to be sure,' said the attorney, thoughtfully.

'And who is that?' pursued my cousin.

'Well, her uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn. He's both heir-at-law and next of kin,'
pursued Abel Grimston.

'Thank you,' said Lady Knollys.

Doctor Clay came forward, bowing very low, in his standing collar and
single-breasted coat, and graciously folded my hand in his soft wrinkled
grasp--

'Allow me, my dear Miss Ruthyn, while expressing my regret that we are to
lose you from among our little flock--though I trust but for a short,
a very short time--to say how I rejoice at the particular arrangement
indicated by the will we have just heard read. My curate, William
Fairfield, resided for some years in the same spiritual capacity in the
neighbourhood of your, I will say, admirable uncle, with occasional
intercourse with whom he was favoured--may I not say blessed?--a true
Christian Churchman--a Christian gentleman. Can I say more? A most happy,
happy choice.' A very low bow here, with eyes nearly closed, and a shake of
the head. 'Mrs. Clay will do herself the honour of waiting upon you, to pay
her respects, before you leave Knowl for your temporary sojourn in another
sphere.'

So, with another deep bow--for I had become a great personage all at
once--he let go my hand cautiously and delicately, as if he were setting
down a curious china tea-cup. And I courtesied low to him, not knowing
what to say, and then to the assembly generally, who all bowed. And Cousin
Monica whispered, briskly, 'Come away,' and took my hand with a very cold
and rather damp one, and led me from the room.




CHAPTER XXV

_I HEAR FROM UNCLE SILAS_


Without saying a word, Cousin Monica accompanied me to the school-room, and
on entering she shut the door, not with a spirited clang, but quietly and
determinedly.

'Well, dear,' she said, with the same pale, excited countenance, 'that
certainly is a sensible and charitable arrangement. I could not have
believed it possible, had I not heard it with my ears.'

'About my going to Bartram-Haugh?'

'Yes, exactly so, under Silas Ruthyn's guardianship, to spend
two--_three_--of the most important years of your education and your life
under that roof. Is _that_, my dear, what was in your mind when you were so
alarmed about what you were to be called upon to do, or undergo?'

'No, no, indeed. I had no notion what it might be. I was afraid of
something serious,' I answered.

'And, my dear Maud, did not your poor father speak to you as if it _was_
something serious?' said she. 'And so it _is_, I can tell you, something
serious, and _very_ serious; and I think it ought to be prevented, and I
certainly _will_ prevent it if I possibly can.'

I was puzzled utterly by the intensity of Lady Knollys' protest. I looked
at her, expecting an explanation of her meaning; but she was silent,
looking steadfastly on the jewels on her right-hand fingers, with which she
was drumming a staccato march on the table, very pale, with gleaming eyes,
evidently thinking deeply. I began to think she _had_ a prejudice against
my uncle Silas.

'He is not very rich,' I commenced.

'Who?' said Lady Knollys.

'Uncle Silas,' I replied.

'No, certainly; he's in debt,' she answered. 'But then, how very highly
Doctor Clay spoke of him!' I pursued.

'Don't talk of Doctor Clay. I do think that man is the greatest goose I
ever heard talk. I have no patience with such men,' she replied.

I tried to remember what particular nonsense Doctor Clay had uttered, and I
could recollect nothing, unless his eulogy upon my uncle were to be classed
with that sort of declamation.

'Danvers is a very proper man and a good accountant, I dare say; but he
is either a very deep person, or a fool--_I_ believe a fool. As for your
attorney, I suppose he knows his business, and also his interest, and I
have no doubt he will consult it. I begin to think he best man among them,
the shrewdest and the most reliable, is that vulgar visionary in the black
wig. I saw him look at you, Maud, and I liked his face, though it is
abominably ugly and vulgar, and cunning, too; but I think he's a just man,
and I dare say with right feelings--I'm _sure_ he has.'

I was quite at a loss to divine the gist of my cousin's criticism.

'I'll have some talk with Dr. Bryerly; I feel convinced he takes my view,
and we must really think what had best be done.'

'Is there anything in the will, Cousin Monica, that does not appear?' I
asked, for I was growing very uneasy. 'I wish you would tell me. What view
do you mean?'

'No view in particular; the view that a desolate old park, and the house of
a _neglected_ old man, who is very poor, and has been desperately foolish,
is not the right place for you, particularly at your years. It is quite
shocking, and I _will_ speak to Doctor Bryerly. May I ring the bell, dear?'

'Certainly;' and I rang it.

'When does he leave Knowl?'

I could not tell. Mrs. Rusk, however, was sent for, and she could tell
us that he had announced his intention of taking the night train from
Drackleton, and was to leave Knowl for that station at half-past six
o'clock.

'May Rusk give or send him a message from me, dear?' asked Lady Knollys.

Of course she might.

'Then please let him know that I request he will be so good as to allow me
a very few minutes, just to say a word before he goes.'

'You kind cousin!' I said, placing my two hands on her shoulders, and
looking earnestly in her face; 'you are anxious about me, more than you
say. Won't you tell me why? I am much more unhappy, really, in ignorance,
than if I understood the cause.'

'Well, dear, haven't I told you? The two or three years of your life which
are to form you are destined to be passed in utter loneliness, and, I am
sure, neglect. You can't estimate the disadvantage of such an arrangement.
It is full of disadvantages. How it could have entered the head of poor
Austin--although I should not say that, for I am sure I do understand
it,--but how he could for any purpose have directed such a measure is quite
inconceivable. I never heard of anything so foolish and abominable, and I
will prevent it if I can.'

At that moment Mrs. Rusk announced that Doctor Bryerly would see Lady
Knollys at any time she pleased before his departure.

'It shall be this moment, then,' said the energetic lady, and up she stood,
and made that hasty general adjustment before the glass, which, no matter
under what circumstances, and before what sort of creature one's appearance
is to be made, is a duty that every woman owes to herself. And I heard her
a moment after, at the stair-head, directing Branston to let Dr. Bryerly
know that she awaited him in the drawing-room.

And now she was gone, and I began to wonder and speculate. Why should
my cousin Monica make all this fuss about, after all, a very natural
arrangement? My uncle, whatever he might have been, was now a good man--a
religious man--perhaps a little severe; and with this thought a dark streak
fell across my sky.

A cruel disciplinarian! had I not read of such characters?--lock and
key, bread and water, and solitude! To sit locked up all night in a dark
out-of-the-way room, in a great, ghosty, old-fashioned house, with no one
nearer than the other wing. What years of horror in one such night! Would
not this explain my poor father's hesitation, and my cousin Monica's
apparently disproportioned opposition? When an idea of terror presents
itself to a young person's mind, it transfixes and fills the vision,
without respect of probabilities or reason.

My uncle was now a terrible old martinet, with long Bible lessons,
lectures, pages of catechism, sermons to be conned by rote, and an awful
catalogue of punishments for idleness, and what would seem to him impiety.
I was going, then, to a frightful isolated reformatory, where for the first
time in my life I should be subjected to a rigorous and perhaps barbarous
discipline.

All this was an exhalation of fancy, but it quite overcame me. I threw
myself, in my solitude, on the floor, upon my knees, and prayed for
deliverance--prayed that Cousin Monica might prevail with Doctor Bryerly,
and both on my behalf with the Lord Chancellor, or the High Sheriff, or
whoever else my proper deliverer might be; and when my cousin returned, she
found me quite in an agony.

'Why, you little fool! what fancy has taken possession of you now?' she
cried.

And when my new terror came to light, she actually laughed a little to
reassure me, and she said--

'My dear child, your uncle Silas will never put you through your duty to
your neighbour; all the time you are under his roof you'll have idleness
and liberty enough, and too much, I fear. It is neglect, my dear, not
discipline, that I'm afraid of.'

'I think, dear Cousin Monica, you are afraid of something more than
neglect,' I said, relieved, however.

'I _am_ afraid of more than neglect,' she replied promptly; 'but I hope my
fears may turn out illusory, and that possibly they may be avoided. And
now, for a few hours at least, let us think of something else. I rather
like that Doctor Bryerly. I could not get him to say what I wanted. I don't
think he's Scotch, but he is very cautious, and I am sure, though he would
not say so, that he thinks of the matter exactly as I do. He says that
those fine people, who are named as his co-trustees, won't take any
trouble, and will leave everything to him, and I am sure he is right. So
we must not quarrel with him, Maud, nor call him hard names, although
he certainly is intolerably vulgar and ugly, and at times very nearly
impertinent--I suppose without knowing, or indeed very much caring.'

We had a good deal to think of, and talked incessantly. There were bursts
and interruptions of grief, and my kind cousin's consolations. I have
often since been so lectured for giving way to grief, that I wonder at the
patience exercised by her during this irksome visit. Then there was some
reading of that book whose claims are always felt in the terrible days of
affliction. After that we had a walk in the yew garden, that quaint little
cloistered quadrangle--the most solemn, sad, and antiquated of gardens.

'And now, my dear, I must really leave you for two or three hours. I have
ever so many letters to write, and my people must think I'm dead by this
time.'

So till tea-time I had poor Mary Quince, with her gushes of simple prattle
and her long fits of vacant silence, for my companion. And such a one, who
can con over by rote the old friendly gossip about the dead, talk about
their ways, and looks, and likings, without much psychologic refinement,
but with a simple admiration and liking that never measured them
critically, but always with faith and love, is in general about as
comfortable a companion as one can find for the common moods of grief.

It is not easy to recall in calm and happy hours the sensations of an acute
sorrow that is past. Nothing, by the merciful ordinance of God, is more
difficult to remember than pain. One or two great agonies of that time I do
remember, and they remain to testify of the rest, and convince me, though I
can see it no more, how terrible all that period was.

Next day was the funeral, that appalling necessity; smuggled away in
whispers, by black familiars, unresisting, the beloved one leaves home,
without a farewell, to darken those doors no more; henceforward to lie
outside, far away, and forsaken, through the drowsy heats of summer,
through days of snow and nights of tempest, without light or warmth,
without a voice near. Oh, Death, king of terrors! The body quakes and the
spirit faints before thee. It is vain, with hands clasped over our eyes, to
scream our reclamation; the horrible image will not be excluded. We have
just the word spoken eighteen hundred years ago, and our trembling faith.
And through the broken vault the gleam of the Star of Bethlehem.

I was glad in a sort of agony when it was over. So long as it remained to
be done, something of the catastrophe was still suspended. Now it was all
over.

The house so strangely empty. No owner--no master! I with my strange
momentary liberty, bereft of that irreplaceable love, never quite prized
until it is lost. Most people have experienced the dismay that underlies
sorrow under such circumstances.

The apartment of the poor outcast from life is now dismantled. Beds and
curtains taken down, and furniture displaced; carpets removed, windows open
and doors locked; the bedroom and anteroom were henceforward, for many a
day, uninhabited. Every shocking change smote my heart like a reproach.

I saw that day that Cousin Monica had been crying for the first time, I
think, since her arrival at Knowl; and I loved her more for it, and felt
consoled. My tears have often been arrested by the sight of another person
weeping, and I never could explain why. But I believe that many persons
experience the same odd reaction.

The funeral was conducted, in obedience to his brief but peremptory
direction, very privately and with little expense. But of course there was
an attendance, and the tenants of the Knowl estate also followed the hearse
to the mausoleum, as it is called, in the park, where he was laid beside my
dear mother. And so the repulsive ceremonial of that dreadful day was over.
The grief remained, but there was rest from the fatigue of agitation, and a
comparative calm supervened.

It was now the stormy equinoctial weather that sounds the wild dirge of
autumn, and marches the winter in. I love, and always did, that grand
undefinable music, threatening and bewailing, with its strange soul of
liberty and desolation.

By this night's mail, as we sat listening to the storm, in the drawing-room
at Knowl, there reached me a large letter with a great black seal, and a
wonderfully deep-black border, like a widow's crape. I did not recognise
the handwriting; but on opening the funereal missive, it proved to be from
my uncle Silas, and was thus expressed:--

'MY DEAREST NIECE,--This letter will reach you, probably, on the day which
consigns the mortal remains of my beloved brother, Austin, your dear
father, to the earth. Sad ceremony, from taking my mournful part in which
I am excluded by years, distance, and broken health. It will, I trust, at
this season of desolation, be not unwelcome to remember that a substitute,
imperfect--unworthy--but most affectionately zealous, for the honoured
parent whom you have just lost, has been appointed, in me, your uncle, by
his will. I am aware that you were present during the reading of it, but
I think it will be for our mutual satisfaction that our new and more
affectionate relations should be forthwith entered upon. My conscience and
your safety, and I trust convenience, will thereby be consulted. You will,
my dear niece, remain at Knowl, until a few simple arrangements shall have
been completed for your reception at this place. I will then settle
the details of your little journey to us, which shall be performed as
comfortably and easily as possible. I humbly pray that this affliction may
be sanctified to us all, and that in our new duties we may be supported,
comforted, and directed. I need not remind you that I now stand to you _in
loco parentis_, which means in the relation of father, and you will not
forget that you are to remain at Knowl until you hear further from me.

'I remain, my dear niece, your most affectionate uncle and guardian,

SILAS RUTHYN.'

'P.S.--Pray present my respects to Lady Knollys, who, I understand, is
sojourning at Knowl. I would observe that a lady who cherishes, I have
reason to fear, unfriendly feelings against your uncle, is not the most
desirable companion for his ward. But upon the express condition that I am
not made the subject of your discussions--a distinction which could not
conduce to your forming a just and respectful estimate of me--I do not
interpose my authority to bring your intercourse to an immediate close.'

As I read this postscript, my cheek tingled as if I had received a box on
the ear. Uncle Silas was as yet a stranger. The menace of authority was new
and sudden, and I felt with a pang of mortification the full force of the
position in which my dear father's will had placed me.

I was silent, and handed the letter to my cousin, who read it with a
kind of smile until she came, as I supposed, to the postscript, when her
countenance, on which my eyes were fixed, changed, and with flushed cheeks
she knocked the hand that held the letter on the table before her, and
exclaimed--

'Did I ever hear! Well, if this isn't impertinence! _What_ an old man that
is!'

There was a pause, during which Lady Knollys held her head high with a
frown, and sniffed a little.

'I did not intend to talk about him, but now I _will_. I'll talk away just
whatever I like; and I'll stay here just as long as you let me, Maud, and
you need not be one atom afraid of him. Our intercourse to an "immediate
close," indeed! I only wish he were here. He should hear something!'

And Cousin Monica drank off her entire cup of tea at one draught, and then
she said, more in her own way--

'I'm better!' and drew a long breath, and then she laughed a little in a
waggish defiance. 'I wish we had him here, Maud, and _would_ not we give
him a bit of our minds! And this before the poor will is so much as
proved!'

'I am almost glad he wrote that postscript; for although I don't think he
has any authority in that matter while I am under my own roof,' I said,
extemporising a legal opinion, 'and, therefore, shan't obey him, it has
somehow opened my eyes to my real situation.'

I sighed, I believe, very desolately, for Lady Knollys came over and kissed
me very gently and affectionately.

'It really seems, Maud, as if he had a supernatural sense, and heard things
through the air over fifty miles of heath and hill. You remember how, just
as he was probably writing that very postscript yesterday, I was urging you
to come and stay with me, and planning to move Dr. Bryerly in our favour.
And so I will, Maud, and to me you _shall_ come--my guest, mind--I should
be so delighted; and really if Silas is under a cloud, it has been his own
doing, and I don't see that it is your business to fight his battle. He
can't live very long. The suspicion, whatever it is dies with him, and what
could poor dear Austin prove by his will but what everybody knew quite well
before--his own strong belief in Silas's innocence? What an awful storm!
The room trembles. Don't you like the sound? What they used to call
'wolving' in the old organ at Dorminster!'




CHAPTER XXVI

_THE STORY OF UNCLE SILAS_


And so it was like the yelling of phantom hounds and hunters, and the
thunder of their coursers in the air--a furious, grand and supernatural
music, which in my fancy made a suitable accompaniment to the discussion of
that enigmatical person--martyr--angel--demon--Uncle Silas--with whom my
fate was now so strangely linked, and whom I had begun to fear.

'The storm blows from that point,' I said, indicating it with my hand and
eye, although the window shutters and curtains were closed. 'I saw all the
trees bend that way this evening. That way stands the great lonely wood,
where my darling father and mother lie. Oh, how dreadful on nights like
this, to think of them--a vault!--damp, and dark, and solitary--under the
storm.'

Cousin Monica looked wistfully in the same direction, and with a short sigh
she said--

'We think too much of the poor remains, and too little of the spirit which
lives for ever. I am sure they are happy.' And she sighed again. 'I wish
I dare hope as confidently for myself. Yes, Maud, it is sad. We are such
materialists, we can't help feeling so. We forget how well it is for us
that our present bodies are not to last always. They are constructed for a
time and place of trouble--plainly mere temporary machines that wear out,
constantly exhibiting failure and decay, and with such tremendous capacity
for pain. The body lies alone, and so it ought, for it is plainly its good
Creator's will; it is only the tabernacle, not the person, who is clothed
upon after death, Saint Paul says, "with a house which is from heaven." So
Maud, darling, although the thought will trouble us again and again, there
is nothing in it; and the poor mortal body is only the cold ruin of a
habitation which _they_ have forsaken before we do. So this great wind, you
say, is blowing toward us from the wood there. If so, Maud, it is blowing
from Bartram-Haugh, too, over the trees and chimneys of that old place, and
the mysterious old man, who is quite right in thinking I don't like him;
and I can fancy him an old enchanter in his castle, waving his familiar
spirits on the wind to fetch and carry tidings of our occupations here.'

I lifted my head and listened to the storm, dying away in the distance
sometimes--sometimes swelling and pealing around and above us--and through
the dark and solitude my thoughts sped away to Bartram-Haugh and Uncle
Silas.

'This letter,' I said at last, 'makes me feel differently. I think he is a
stern old man--is he?'

'It is twenty years, now, since I saw him,' answered Lady Knollys. 'I did
not choose to visit at his house.'

'Was that before the dreadful occurrence at Bartram-Haugh?'

'Yes--before, dear. He was not a reformed rake, but only a ruined one then.
Austin was very good to him. Mr. Danvers says it is quite unaccountable how
Silas can have made away with the immense sums he got from his brother from
time to time without benefiting himself in the least. But, my dear, he
played; and trying to help a man who plays, and is unlucky--and some men
are, I believe, habitually unlucky--is like trying to fill a vessel that
has no bottom. I think, by-the-by, my hopeful nephew, Charles Oakley,
plays. Then Silas went most unjustifiably into all manner of speculations,
and your poor father had to pay everything. He lost something quite
astounding in that bank that ruined so many country gentlemen--poor Sir
Harry Shackleton, in Yorkshire, had to sell half his estate. But your kind
father went on helping him, up to his marriage--I mean in that extravagant
way which was really totally useless.'

'Has my aunt been long dead?'

'Twelve or fifteen years--more, indeed--she died before your poor mamma.
She was very unhappy, and I am sure would have given her right hand she had
never married Silas.'

'Did you like her?'

'No, dear; she was a coarse, vulgar woman.'

'Coarse and vulgar, and Uncle Silas's wife!' I echoed in extreme surprise,
for Uncle Silas was a man of fashion--a beau in his day--and might have
married women of good birth and fortune, I had no doubt, and so I expressed
myself. 'Yes, dear; so he might, and poor dear Austin was very anxious he
should, and would have helped him with a handsome settlement, I dare say,
but he chose to marry the daughter of a Denbigh innkeeper.'

'How utterly incredible!' I exclaimed.

'Not the least incredible, dear--a kind of thing not at all so uncommon as
you fancy.'

'What!--a gentleman of fashion and refinement marry a person--'

'A barmaid!--just so,' said Lady Knollys. 'I think I could count half a
dozen men of fashion who, to my knowledge, have ruined themselves just in a
similar way.'

'Well, at all events, it must be allowed that in this he proved himself
altogether unworldly.'

'Not a bit unworldly, but very vicious,' replied Cousin Monica, with a
careless little laugh. 'She was very beautiful, curiously beautiful, for
a person in her station. She was very like that Lady Hamilton who was
Nelson's sorceress--elegantly beautiful, but perfectly low and stupid.
I believe, to do him justice, he only intended to ruin her; but she was
cunning enough to insist upon marriage. Men who have never in all their
lives denied themselves the indulgence of a single fancy, cost what it
may, will not be baulked even by that condition if the _penchant_ be only
violent enough.'

I did not half understand this piece of worldly psychology, at which Lady
Knollys seemed to laugh.

'Poor Silas, certainly he struggled honestly against the consequences,
for he tried after the honeymoon to prove the marriage bad. But the Welsh
parson and the innkeeper papa were too strong for him, and the young lady
was able to hold her struggling swain fast in that respectable noose--and a
pretty prize he proved!'

'And she died, poor thing, broken-hearted, I heard.'

'She died, at all events, about ten years after her marriage; but I really
can't say about her heart. She certainly had enough ill-usage, I believe,
to kill her; but I don't know that she had feeling enough to die of it, if
it had not been that she drank: I am told that Welsh women often do. There
was jealousy, of course, and brutal quarrelling, and all sorts of horrid
stories. I visited at Bartram-Haugh for a year or two, though no one else
would. But when that sort of thing began, of course I gave it up; it was
out of the question. I don't think poor Austin ever knew how bad it was.
And then came that odious business about wretched Mr. Charke. You know
he--he committed suicide at Bartram.'

'I never heard about that,' I said; and we both paused, and she looked
sternly at the fire, and the storm roared and ha-ha-ed till the old house
shook again.

'But Uncle Silas could not help that,' I said at last.

'No, he could not help it,' she acquiesced unpleasantly.

'And Uncle Silas was'--I paused in a sort of fear.

'He was suspected by some people of having killed him'--she completed the
sentence.

There was another long pause here, during which the storm outside bellowed
and hooted like an angry mob roaring at the windows for a victim. An
intolerable and sickening sensation overpowered me.

'But _you_ did not suspect him, Cousin Knollys?' I said, trembling very
much.

'No,' she answered very sharply. 'I told you so before. Of course I did
not.'

There was another silence.

'I wish, Cousin Monica,' I said, drawing close to her, 'you had not said
_that_ about Uncle Silas being like a wizard, and sending his spirits
on the wind to listen. But I'm very glad you never suspected him.' I
insinuated my cold hand into hers, and looked into her face I know not with
what expression. She looked down into mine with a hard, haughty stare, I
thought.

'Of _course_ I never suspected him; and _never_ ask me _that_ question
again, Maud Ruthyn.'

Was it family pride, or what was it, that gleamed so fiercely from her eyes
as she said this? I was frightened--I was wounded--I burst into tears.

'What is my darling crying for? I did not mean to be cross. _Was_ I
cross?' said this momentary phantom of a grim Lady Knollys, in an instant
translated again into kind, pleasant Cousin Monica, with her arms about my
neck.

'No, no, indeed--only I thought I had vexed you; and, I believe, thinking
of Uncle Silas makes me nervous, and I can't help thinking of him nearly
always.' 'Nor can I, although we might both easily find something better to
think of. Suppose we try?' said Lady Knollys.

'But, first, I must know a little more about that Mr. Charke, and what
circumstances enabled Uncle Silas's enemies to found on his death that
wicked slander, which has done no one any good, and caused some persons so
much misery. There is Uncle Silas, I may say, ruined by it; and we all know
how it darkened the life of my dear father.'

'People will talk, my dear. Your uncle Silas had injured himself before
that in the opinion of the people of his county. He was a black sheep,
in fact. Very bad stories were told and believed of him. His marriage
certainly was a disadvantage, you know, and the miserable scenes that went
on in his disreputable house--all that predisposed people to believe ill of
him.'

'How long is it since it happened?'

'Oh, a long time; I think before you were born,' answered she.

'And the injustice still lives--they have not forgotten it yet?' said I,
for such a period appeared to me long enough to have consigned anything in
its nature perishable to oblivion.

Lady Knollys smiled.

'Tell me, like a darling cousin, the whole story as well as you can
recollect it. Who was Mr. Charke?'

'Mr. Charke, my dear, was a gentleman on the turf--that is the phrase, I
think--one of those London men, without birth or breeding, who merely in
right of their vices and their money are admitted to associate with young
dandies who like hounds and horses, and all that sort of thing. That set
knew him very well, but of course no one else. He was at the Matlock
races, and your uncle asked him to Bartram-Haugh; and the creature, Jew
or Gentile, whatever he was, fancied there was more honour than, perhaps,
there really was in a visit to Bartram-Haugh.'

'For the kind of person you describe, it _was_, I think, a rather unusual
honour to be invited to stay in the house of a man of Uncle Ruthyn's
birth.'

'Well, so it was perhaps; for though they knew him very well on the course,
and would ask him to their tavern dinners, they would not, of course, admit
him to the houses where ladies were. But Silas's wife was not much regarded
at Bartram-Haugh. Indeed, she was very little seen, for she was every
evening tipsy in her bedroom, poor woman!'

'How miserable!' I exclaimed.

'I don't think it troubled Silas very much, for she drank gin, they said,
poor thing, and the expense was not much; and, on the whole, I really think
he was glad she drank, for it kept her out of his way, and was likely to
kill her. At this time your poor father, who was thoroughly disgusted at
his marriage, had stopped the supplies, you know, and Silas was very poor,
and as hungry as a hawk, and they said he pounced upon this rich London
gamester, intending to win his money. I am telling you now all that was
said afterwards. The races lasted I forget how many days, and Mr. Charke
stayed at Bartram-Haugh all this time and for some days after. It was
thought that poor Austin would pay all Silas's gambling debts, and so this
wretched Mr. Charke made heavy wagers with him on the races, and they
played very deep, besides, at Bartram. He and Silas used to sit up at night
at cards. All these particulars, as I told you, came out afterwards, for
there was an inquest, you know, and then Silas published what he called his
"statement," and there was a great deal of most distressing correspondence
in the newspapers.'

'And why did Mr. Charke kill himself?' I asked.

'Well, I will tell you first what all are agreed about. The second night
after the races, your uncle and Mr. Charke sat up till between two and
three o'clock in the morning, quite by themselves, in the parlour. Mr.
Charke's servant was at the Stag's Head Inn at Feltram, and therefore could
throw no light upon what occurred at night at Bartram-Haugh; but he was
there at six o'clock in the morning, and very early at his master's door by
his direction. He had locked it, as was his habit, upon the inside, and the
key was in the lock, which turned out afterwards a very important point.
On knocking he found that he could not awaken his master, because, as it
appeared when the door was forced open, his master was lying dead at his
bedside, not in a pool, but a perfect pond of blood, as they described it,
with his throat cut.'

'How horrible!' cried I.

'So it was. Your uncle Silas was called up, and greatly shocked of course,
and he did what I believe was best. He had everything left as nearly as
possible in the exact state in which it had been found, and he sent his
own servant forthwith for the coroner, and, being himself a justice of
the peace, he took the depositions of Mr. Charke's servant while all the
incidents were still fresh in his memory.'

'Could anything be more straightforward, more right and wise?' I said.

'Oh, nothing of course,' answered Lady Knollys, I thought a little drily.




CHAPTER XXVII

_MORE ABOUT TOM CHARKE'S SUICIDE_


So the inquest was held, and Mr. Manwaring, of Wail Forest, was the only
juryman who seemed to entertain the idea during the inquiry that Mr. Charke
had died by any hand but his own.

'And how _could_ he fancy such a thing?' I exclaimed indignantly.

'Well, you will see the result was quite enough to justify them in saying
as they did, that he died by his own hand. The window was found fastened
with a screw on the inside, as it had been when the chambermaid had
arranged it at nine o'-clock; no one could have entered through it.
Besides, it was on the third story, and the rooms are lofty, so it stood
at a great height from the ground, and there was no ladder long enough
to reach it. The house is built in the form of a hollow square, and Mr.
Charke's room looked into the narrow court-yard within. There is but one
door leading into this, and it did not show any sign of having been open
for years. The door was locked upon the inside, and the key in the lock,
so that nobody could have made an entrance that way either, for it was
impossible, you see, to unlock the door from the outside.' 'And how could
they affect to question anything so clear?' I asked.

'There did come, nevertheless, a kind of mist over the subject, which
gave those who chose to talk unpleasantly an opportunity of insinuating
suspicions, though they could not themselves find the clue of the mystery.
In the first place, it appeared that he had gone to bed very tipsy, and
that he was heard sing ing and noisy in his room while getting to bed--not
the mood in which men make away with themselves. Then, although his own
razor was found in that dreadful blood (it is shocking to have to hear all
this) near his right hand, the fingers of his left were cut to the bone.
Then the memorandum book in which his bets were noted was nowhere to be
found. That, you know, was very odd. His keys were there attached to a
chain. He wore a great deal of gold and trinkets. I saw him, wretched
man, on the course. They had got off their horses. He and your uncle were
walking on the course.'

'Did he look like a gentleman?' I inquired, as I dare say, other young
ladies would.

'He looked like a Jew, my dear. He had a horrid brown coat with a velvet
cape, curling black hair over his collar, and great whiskers, very high
shoulders, and he was puffing a cigar straight up into the air. I was
shocked to see Silas in such company.'

'And did his keys discover anything?' I asked.

'On opening his travelling desk and a small japanned box within it a vast
deal less money was found than was expected--in fact, very little. Your
uncle said that he had won some of it the night before at play, and
that Charke complained to him when tipsy of having had severe losses to
counterbalance his gains on the races. Besides, he had been paid but a
small part of those gains. About his book it appeared that there were
little notes of bets on the backs of letters, and it was said that
he sometimes made no other memorandum of his wagers--but this was
disputed--and among those notes there was not one referring to Silas. But,
then, there was an omission of all allusion to his transactions with two
other well-known gentlemen. So that was not singular.'

'No, certainly; that was quite accounted for,' said I.

'And then came the question,' continued she, 'what motive could Mr. Charke
possibly have had for making away with himself.'

'But is not that very difficult to make out in many cases?' I interposed.

'It was said that he had some mysterious troubles in London, at which he
used to hint. Some people said that he really was in a scrape, but others
that there was no such thing, and that when he talked so he was only
jesting. There was no suspicion during the inquest that your uncle Silas
was involved, except those questions of Mr. Manwaring's.'

'What were they?' I asked.

'I really forget; but they greatly offended your uncle, and there was a
little scene in the room. Mr. Manwaring seemed to think that some one had
somehow got into the room. Through the door it could not be, nor down the
chimney, for they found an iron bar across the flue, near the top in the
masonry. The window looked into a court-yard no bigger than a ball-room.
They went down and examined it, but, though the ground beneath was moist,
they could not discover the slightest trace of a footprint. So far as they
could make out, Mr. Charke had hermetically sealed himself into his room,
and then cut his throat with his own razor.'

'Yes,' said I, 'for it was all secured--that is, the window and the
door--upon the inside, and no sign of any attempt to get in.'

'Just so; and when the walls were searched, and, as your uncle Silas
directed, the wainscoting removed, some months afterwards, when the scandal
grew loudest, then it was evident that there was no concealed access to the
room.'

'So the answer to all those calumnies was simply that the crime was
impossible,' said I. 'How dreadful that such a slander should have required
an answer at all!'

'It was an unpleasant affair even then, although I cannot say that anyone
supposed Silas guilty; but you know the whole thing was disreputable, that
Mr. Charke was a discreditable inmate, the occurrence was horrible, and
there was a glare of publicity which brought into relief the scandals of
Bartram-Haugh. But in a little time it became, all on a sudden, a great
deal worse.'

My cousin paused to recollect exactly.

'There were very disagreeable whispers among the sporting people in London.
This person, Charke, had written two letters, Yes--two. They were published
about two months after, by the villain to whom they were written; he wanted
to extort money. They were first talked of a great deal among that set in
town; but the moment they were published they produced a sensation in the
country, and a storm of newspaper commentary. The first of these was of no
great consequence, but the second was very startling, embarrassing, and
even alarming.'

'What was it, Cousin Monica?' I whispered.

'I can only tell you in a general way, it is so very long since I read
it; but both were written in the same kind of slang, and parts as hard to
understand as a prize fight. I hope you never read those things.'

I satisfied this sudden educational alarm, and Lady Knollys proceeded.

'I am afraid you hardly hear me, the wind makes such an uproar. Well,
listen. The letter said distinctly, that he, Mr. Charke, had made a very
profitable visit to Bartram-Haugh, and mentioned in exact figures for how
much he held your uncle Silas's I.O.U.'s, for he could not pay him. I can't
say what the sum was. I only remember that it was quite frightful. It took
away my breath when I read it.'

'Uncle Silas had lost it?' I asked.

'Yes, and owed it; and had given him those papers called I.O.U.'s promising
to pay, which, of course, Mr. Charke had locked up with his money; and the
insinuation was that Silas had made away with him, to get rid of this debt,
and that he had also taken a great deal of his money.

'I just recollect these points which were exactly what made the
impression,' continued Lady Knollys, after a short pause; 'the letter was
written in the evening of the last day of the wretched man's life, so that
there had not been much time for your uncle Silas to win back his money;
and he stoutly alleged that he did not owe Mr. Charke a guinea. It
mentioned an enormous sum as being actually owed by Silas; and it cautioned
the man, an agent, to whom he wrote, not to mention the circumstance, as
Silas could only pay by getting the money from his wealthy brother, who
would have the management; and he distinctly said that he had kept the
matter very close at Silas's request. That, you know, was a very awkward
letter, and all the worse that it was written in brutally high spirits, and
not at all like a man meditating an exit from the world. You can't imagine
what a sensation the publication of these letters produced. In a moment
the storm was up, and certainly Silas did meet it bravely--yes, with great
courage and ability. What a pity he did not early enter upon some career of
ambition! Well, well, it is idle regretting. He suggested that the letters
were forgeries. He alleged that Charke was in the habit of boasting, and
telling enormous falsehoods about his gambling transactions, especially in
his letters. He reminded the world how often men affect high animal spirits
at the very moment of meditating suicide. He alluded, in a manly and
graceful way, to his family and their character. He took a high and
menacing tone with his adversaries, and he insisted that what they dared to
insinuate against him was physically impossible.'

I asked in what form this vindication appeared.

'It was a letter, printed as a pamphlet; everybody admired its ability,
ingenuity, and force, and it was written with immense rapidity.'

'Was it at all in the style of his letters?' I innocently asked.

My cousin laughed.

'Oh, dear, no! Ever since he avowed himself a religious character, he had
written nothing but the most vapid and nerveless twaddle. Your poor dear
father used to send his letters to me to read, and I sometimes really
thought that Silas was losing his faculties; but I believe he was only
trying to write in character.'

'I suppose the general feeling was in his favour?' I said.

'I don't think it was, anywhere; but in his own county it was certainly
unanimously against him. There is no use in asking why; but so it was, and
I think it would have been easier for him with his unaided strength to
uproot the Peak than to change the convictions of the Derbyshire gentlemen.
They were all against him. Of course there were predisposing causes. Your
uncle published a very bitter attack upon them, describing himself as the
victim of a political conspiracy: and I recollect he mentioned that from
the hour of the shocking catastrophe in his house, he had forsworn the turf
and all pursuits and amusements connected with it. People sneered, and said
he might as well go as wait to be kicked out.'

'Were there law-suits about all this?' I asked.

'Everybody expected that there would, for there were very savage things
printed on both sides, and I think, too, that the persons who thought worst
of him expected that evidence would yet turn up to convict Silas of the
crime they chose to impute; and so years have glided away, and many of the
people who remembered the tragedy of Bartram-Haugh, and took the strongest
part in the denunciation, and ostracism that followed, are dead, and no new
light had been thrown upon the occurrence, and your uncle Silas remains an
outcast. At first he was quite wild with rage, and would have fought the
whole county, man by man, if they would have met him. But he had since
changed his habits and, as he says, his aspirations altogether.'

'He has become religious.'

'The only occupation remaining to him. He owes money; he is poor; he is
isolated; and he says, sick and religious. Your poor father, who was
very decided and inflexible, never helped him beyond the limit he had
prescribed, after Silas's _mésalliance_. He wanted to get him into
Parliament, and would have paid his expenses, and made him an allowance;
but either Silas had grown lazy, or he understood his position better than
poor Austin, or he distrusted his powers, or possibly he really is in
ill-health; but he objected his religious scruples. Your poor papa thought
self-assertion possible, where an injured man has right to rely upon, but
he had been very long out of the world, and the theory won't do. Nothing is
harder than to get a person who has once been effectually slurred, received
again. Silas, I think, was right. I don't think it was practicable.

'Dear child, how late it is!' exclaimed Lady Knollys suddenly, looking at
the Louis Quatorze clock, that crowned the mantelpiece.

It was near one o'clock. The storm had a little subsided, and I took a less
agitated and more confident view of Uncle Silas than I had at an earlier
hour of that evening.

'And what do you think of him?' I asked.

Lady Knollys drummed on the table with her finger points as she looked into
the fire.

'I don't understand metaphysics, my dear, nor witchcraft. I sometimes
believe in the supernatural, and sometimes I don't. Silas Ruthyn is himself
alone, and I can't define him, because I don't understand him. Perhaps
other souls than human are sometimes born into the world, and clothed in
flesh. It is not only about that dreadful occurrence, but nearly always
throughout his life; early and late he has puzzled me. I have tried in vain
to understand him. But at one time of his life I am sure he was awfully
wicked--eccentric indeed in his wickedness--gay, frivolous, secret, and
dangerous. At one time I think he could have made poor Austin do almost
anything; but his influence vanished with his marriage, never to return
again. No; I don't understand him. He always bewildered me, like a shifting
face, sometimes smiling, but always sinister, in an unpleasant dream.'




CHAPTER XXVIII

_I AM PERSUADED_


So now at last I had heard the story of Uncle Silas's mysterious disgrace.
We sat silent for a while, and I, gazing into vacancy, sent him in a
chariot of triumph, chapletted, ringed, and robed through the city of
imagination, crying after him, 'Innocent! innocent! martyr and crowned!'
All the virtues and honesties, reason and conscience, in myriad
shapes--tier above tier of human faces--from the crowded pavement, crowded
windows, crowded roofs, joined in the jubilant acclamation, and trumpeters
trumpeted, and drums rolled, and great organs and choirs through open
cathedral gates, rolled anthems of praise and thanksgiving, and the bells
rang out, and cannons sounded, and the air trembled with the roaring
harmony; and Silas Ruthyn, the full-length portrait, stood in the burnished
chariot, with a proud, sad, clouded face, that rejoiced not with the
rejoicers, and behind him the slave, thin as a ghost, white-faced, and
sneering something in his ear: while I and all the city went on crying
'Innocent! innocent! martyr and crowned!' And now the reverie was ended;
and there were only Lady Knollys' stern, thoughtful face, with the pale
light of sarcasm on it, and the storm outside thundering and lamenting
desolately.

It was very good of Cousin Monica to stay with me so long. It must have
been unspeakably tiresome. And now she began to talk of business at home,
and plainly to prepare for immediate flight, and my heart sank.

I know that I could not then have defined my feelings and agitations. I am
not sure that I even now could. Any misgiving about Uncle Silas was, in my
mind, a questioning the foundations of my faith, and in itself an impiety.
And yet I am not sure that some such misgiving, faint, perhaps, and
intermittent, may not have been at the bottom of my tribulation.

I was not very well. Lady Knollys had gone out for a walk. She was not
easily tired, and sometimes made a long excursion. The sun was setting now,
when Mary Quince brought me a letter which had just arrived by the post. My
heart throbbed violently. I was afraid to break the broad black seal. It
was from Uncle Silas. I ran over in my mind all the unpleasant mandates
which it might contain, to try and prepare myself for a shock. At last
I opened the letter. It directed me to hold myself in readiness for the
journey to Bartram-Haugh. It stated that I might bring two maids with me if
I wished so many, and that his next letter would give me the details of my
route, and the day of my departure for Derbyshire; and he said that I ought
to make arrangements about Knowl during my absence, but that he was hardly
the person properly to be consulted on that matter. Then came a prayer that
he might be enabled to acquit himself of his trust to the full satisfaction
of his conscience, and that I might enter upon my new relations in a spirit
of prayer.

I looked round my room, so long familiar, and now so endeared by the idea
of parting and change. The old house--dear, dear Knowl, how could I leave
you and all your affectionate associations, and kind looks and voices, for
a strange land!

With a great sigh I took Uncle Silas's letter, and went down stairs to the
drawing-room. From the lobby window, where I loitered for a few moments,
I looked out upon the well-known forest-trees. The sun was down. It was
already twilight, and the white vapours of coming night were already
filming their thinned and yellow foliage. Everything looked melancholy.
How little did those who envied the young inheritrex of a princely fortune
suspect the load that lay at her heart, or, bating the fear of death, how
gladly at that moment she would have parted with her life!

Lady Knollys had not yet returned, and it was darkening rapidly; a mass of
black clouds stood piled in the west, through the chasms of which was still
reflected a pale metallic lustre.

The drawing-room was already very dark; but some streaks of this cold light
fell upon a black figure, which would otherwise have been unseen, leaning
beside the curtains against the window frame.

It advanced abruptly, with creaking shoes; it was Doctor Bryerly.

I was startled and surprised, not knowing how he had got there. I stood
staring at him in the dusk rather awkwardly, I am afraid.

'How do you do, Miss Ruthyn?' said he, extending his hand, long, hard, and
brown as a mummy's, and stooping a little so as to approach more nearly,
for it was not easy to see in the imperfect light. 'You're surprised, I
dare say, to see me here so soon again?'

'I did not know you had arrived. I am glad to see you, Doctor Bryerly.
Nothing unpleasant, I hope, has happened?'

'No, nothing unpleasant, Miss. The will has been lodged, and we shall have
probate in due course; but there has been something on my mind, and I'm
come to ask you two or three questions which you had better answer very
considerately. Is Miss Knollys still here?'

'Yes, but she is not returned from her walk.'

'I am glad she is here. I think she takes a sound view, and women
understand one another better. As for me, it is plainly my duty to put it
before you as it strikes me, and to offer all I can do in accomplishing,
should you wish it, a different arrangement. You don't know your uncle, you
said the other day?'

'No, I've never seen him.'

'You understand your late father's intention in making you his ward?'

'I suppose he wished to show his high opinion of my uncle's fitness for
such a trust.'

'That's quite true; but the nature of the trust in this instance is
extraordinary.'

'I don't understand.'

'Why, if you die before you come to the age of twenty-one, the entire of
the property will go to him--do you see?--and he has the custody of your
person in the meantime; you are to live in his house, under his care and
authority. You see now, I think, how it is; and I did not like it when your
father read the will to me, and I said so. Do _you_?'

I hesitated to speak, not sure that I quite comprehended him.

'And the more I think of it, the less I like it, Miss,' said Doctor
Bryerly, in a calm, stern tone.

'Merciful Heaven! Doctor Bryerly, you can't suppose that I should not be
as safe in my uncle's house as in the Lord Chancellor's?' I ejaculated,
looking full in his face.

'But don't you see, Miss, it is not a fair position to put your uncle in,'
replied he, after a little hesitation.

'But suppose _he_ does not think so. You know, if he does, he may decline
it.'

'Well that's true--but he won't. Here is his letter'--and he produced
it--'announcing officially that he means to accept the office; but I think
he ought to be told it is not _delicate_, under all circumstances.
You know, Miss, that your uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn, was talked about
unpleasantly once.'

'You mean'--I began.

'I mean about the death of Mr. Charke, at Bartram-Haugh.'

'Yes, I have heard that,' I said; he was speaking with a shocking _aplomb_.

'We assume, of course, _unjustly_; but there are many who think quite
differently.'

'And possibly, Doctor Bryerly, it was for that very reason that my dear
papa made him my guardian.'

'There can be no doubt of that, Miss; it was to purge him of that scandal.'

'And when he has acquitted himself honourably of that trust, don't you
think such a proof of confidence so honourably fulfilled must go far to
silence his traducers?'

'Why, if all goes well, it may do a little; but a great deal less than you
fancy. But take it that you happen to _die_, Miss, during your minority. We
are all mortal, and there are three years and some months to go; how will
it be then? Don't you see? Just fancy how people will talk.'

'I think you know that my uncle is a religious man?' said I.

'Well, Miss, what of that?' he asked again.

'He is--he has suffered intensely,' I continued. 'He has long retired from
the world; he is very religious. Ask our curate, Mr. Fairfield, if you
doubt it.'

'But I am not disputing it, Miss; I'm only supposing what may happen--an
accident, we'll call it small-pox, diphtheria, _that's_ going very much.
Three years and three months, you know, is a long time. You proceed to
Bartram-Haugh, thinking you have much goods laid up for many years; but
your Creator, you know, may say, "Thou fool, this day is thy soul required
of thee." You go--and what pray is thought of your uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn,
who walks in for the entire inheritance, and who has long been abused like
a pickpocket, or worse, in his own county, I'm told?'

'You are a religious man, Doctor Bryerly, according to your lights?' I
said.

The Swedenborgian smiled.

'Well, knowing that he is so too, and having yourself experienced the power
of religion, do not you think him deserving of every confidence? Don't you
think it well that he should have this opportunity of exhibiting both his
own character and the reliance which my dear papa reposed on it, and that
we should leave all consequences and contingencies in the hands of Heaven?'

'It appears to have been the will of Heaven hitherto,' said Doctor
Bryerly--I could not see with what expression of face, but he was looking
down, and drawing little diagrams with his stick on the dark carpet, and
spoke in a very low tone--'that your uncle should suffer under this ill
report. In countervailing the appointment of Providence, we must employ our
reason, with conscientious diligence, as to the means, and if we find that
they are as likely to do mischief as good, we have no right to expect a
special interposition to turn our experiment into an ordeal. I think you
ought to weigh it well--I am sure there are reasons against it. If you make
up your mind that you would rather be placed under the care, say of Lady
Knollys, I will endeavour all I can to effect it.'

'That could not be done without his consent, could it?' said I.

'No, but I don't despair of getting that--on terms, of course,' remarked
he.

'I don't quite understand,' I said.

'I mean, for instance, if he were allowed to keep the allowance for your
maintenance--eh?'

'I mistake my uncle Silas very much,' I said, 'if that allowance is any
object whatever to him compared with the moral value of the position. If he
were deprived of that, I am sure he would decline the other.'

'We might try him at all events,' said Doctor Bryerly, on whose dark sinewy
features, even in this imperfect light, I thought I detected a smile.

'Perhaps,' said I, 'I appear very foolish in supposing him actuated by any
but sordid motives; but he is my near relation, and I can't help it, sir.'

'That is a very serious thing, Miss Ruthyn,' he replied. 'You are very
young, and cannot see it at present, as you will hereafter. He is very
religious, you say, and all that, but his house is not a proper place for
you. It is a solitude--its master an outcast, and it has been the repeated
scene of all sorts of scandals, and of one great crime; and Lady Knollys
thinks your having been domesticated there will be an injury to you all the
days of your life.'

'So I do, Maud,' said Lady Knollys, who had just entered the room
unperceived,--'How do you do, Doctor Bryerly?--a serious injury. You have
no idea how entirely that house is condemned and avoided, and the very name
of its inmates tabooed.'

'How monstrous--how cruel!' I exclaimed.

'Very unpleasant, my dear, but perfectly natural. You are to recollect that
quite independently of the story of Mr. Charke, the house was talked about,
and the county people had cut your uncle Silas long before that adventure
was dreamed of; and as to the circumstance of your being placed in his
charge by his brother, who took, from strong family feeling, a totally
one-sided view of the affair from the first, having the slightest effect in
restoring his position in the county, you must quite give that up. Except
me, if he will allow me, and the clergyman, not a soul in the country will
visit at Bartram-Haugh. They may pity you, and think the whole thing the
climax of folly and cruelty; but they won't visit at Bartram, or know
Silas, or have anything to do with his household.'

'They will see, at all events, what my dear papa's opinion was.'

'They know that already,' answered she, 'and it has not, and ought not to
have, the slightest weight with them. There are people there who think
themselves just as great as the Ruthyns, or greater; and your poor father's
idea of carrying it by a demonstration was simply the dream of a man who
had forgotten the world, and learned to exaggerate himself in his long
seclusion. I know he was beginning himself to hesitate; and I think if he
had been spared another year that provision of his will would have been
struck out.'

Doctor Bryerly nodded, and he said--

'And if he had the power to dictate _now_, would he insist on that
direction? It is a mistake every way, injurious to you, his child; and
should you happen to die during your sojourn under your uncle's care, it
would woefully defeat the testator's object, and raise such a storm of
surmise and inquiry as would awaken all England, and send the old scandal
on the wing through the world again.'

'Doctor Bryerly will, I have no doubt, arrange it all. In fact, I do not
think it would be very difficult to bring Silas to terms; and if you do not
consent to his trying, Maud, mark my words, you will live to repent it.'

Here were two persons viewing the question from totally different points;
both perfectly disinterested; both in their different ways, I believe,
shrewd and even wise; and both honourable, urging me against it, and in a
way that undefinably alarmed my imagination, as well as moved my reason. I
looked from one to the other--there was a silence. By this time the candles
had come, and we could see one another.

'I only wait your decision, Miss Ruthyn,' said the trustee, 'to see
your uncle. If his advantage was the chief object contemplated in this
arrangement, he will be the best judge whether his interest is really best
consulted by it or no; and I think he will clearly see that it is _not_ so,
and will answer accordingly.'

'I cannot answer now--you must allow me to think it over--I will do my
best. I am very much obliged, my dear Cousin Monica, you are so very good,
and you too, Doctor Bryerly.'

Doctor Bryerly by this time was looking into his pocket-book, and did not
acknowledge my thanks even by a nod.

'I must be in London the day after to-morrow. Bartram-Haugh is nearly sixty
miles from here, and only twenty of that by rail, I find. Forty miles of
posting over those Derbyshire mountains is slow work; but if you say _try_,
I'll see him to-morrow morning.'

'You must say try--you _must_, my dear Maud.'

'But how can I decide in a moment? Oh, dear Cousin Monica, I am so
distracted!'

'But _you_ need not decide at all; the decision rests with _him_. Come; he
is more competent than you. You _must_ say yes.'

Again I looked from her to Doctor Bryerly, and from him to her again. I
threw my arms about her neck, and hugging her closely to me, I cried--

'Oh, Cousin Monica, dear Cousin Monica, advise me. I am a wretched
creature. You must advise me.'

I did not know till now how irresolute a character was mine.

I knew somehow by the tone of her voice that she was smiling as she
answered--

'Why, dear, I have advised you; I _do_ advise you;' and then she added,
impetuously, 'I entreat and implore, if you really think I love you, that
you will _follow_ my advice. It is your duty to leave your uncle Silas,
whom you believe to be more competent than you are, to decide, after full
conference with Doctor Bryerly, who knows more of your poor father's views
and intentions in making that appointment than either you or I.'

'Shall I say, yes?' I cried, drawing her close, and kissing her
helplessly.' Oh, tell me--tell me to say, yes.'

'Yes, of course, _yes_. She agrees, Doctor Bryerly, to your kind proposal.'

'I am to understand so?' he asked.

'Very well--yes, Doctor Bryerly,' I replied.

'You have resolved wisely and well,' said he, briskly, like a man who has
got a care off his mind.

'I forgot to say, Doctor Bryerly--it was very rude--that you must stay here
to-night.'

'He _can't_, my dear,' interposed Lady Knolly's; 'it is a long way.'

'He will dine. Won't you, Doctor Bryerly?'

'No; he can't. You know you can't, sir,' said my cousin, peremptorily. 'You
must not worry him, my dear, with civilities he can't accept. He'll bid us
good-bye this moment. Good-bye, Doctor Bryerly. You'll write immediately;
don't wait till you reach town. Bid him good-bye, Maud. I'll say a word to
you in the hall.'

And thus she literally hurried him out of the room, leaving me in a state
of amazement and confusion, not able to review my decision--unsatisfied,
but still unable to recall it.

I stood where they had left me, looking after them, I suppose, like a fool.

Lady Knollys returned in a few minutes. If I had been a little cooler I was
shrewd enough to perceive that she had sent poor Doctor Bryerly away upon
his travels, to find board and lodging half-way to Bartram, to remove
him forthwith from my presence, and thus to make my decision--if mine it
was--irrevocable.

'I applaud you, my dear,' said Cousin Knollys, in her turn embracing me
heartily. 'You are a sensible little darling, and have done exactly what
you ought to have done.'

'I hope I have,' I faltered.

'Hope? fiddle! stuff! the thing's as plain as a pikestaff.'

And in came Branston to say that dinner was served.




CHAPTER XXIX

_HOW THE AMBASSADOR FARED_


Lady Knollys, I could plainly see, when we got into the brighter lights at
the dinner table, was herself a good deal excited; she was relieved
and glad, and was garrulous during our meal, and told me all her early
recollections of dear papa. Most of them I had heard before; but they could
not be told too often.

Notwithstanding my mind sometimes wandered, _often_ indeed, to the
conference so unexpected, so suddenly decisive, possibly so momentous; and
with a dismayed uncertainly, the question--had I done right?--was always
before me.

I dare say my cousin understood my character better, perhaps, after all my
honest self-study, then I do even now. Irresolute, suddenly reversing my
own decisions, impetuous in action as she knew me, she feared, I am sure,
a revocation of my commission to Doctor Bryerly, and thought of the
countermand I might send galloping after him.

So, kind creature, she laboured to occupy my thoughts, and when one theme
was exhausted found another, and had always her parry prepared as often as
I directed a reflection or an enquiry to the re-opening of the question
which she had taken so much pains to close.

That night I was troubled. I was already upbraiding myself. I could not
sleep, and at last sat up in bed, and cried. I lamented my weakness in
having assented to Doctor Bryerly's and my cousin's advice. Was I not
departing from my engagement to my dear papa? Was I not consenting that
my Uncle Silas should be induced to second my breach of faith by a
corresponding perfidy?

Lady Knollys had done wisely in despatching Doctor Bryerly so promptly;
for, most assuredly, had he been at Knowl next morning when I came down I
should have recalled my commission.

That day in the study I found four papers which increased my perturbation.
They were in dear papa's handwriting, and had an indorsement in these
words--'Copy of my letter addressed to ----, one of the trustees named in
my will.' Here, then, were the contents of those four sealed letters which
had excited mine and Lady Knollys' curiosity on the agitating day on which
the will was read.

It contained these words:--

'I name my oppressed and unhappy brother, Silas Ruthyn, residing at my
house of Bartram-Haugh, as guardian of the person of my beloved child, to
convince the world if possible, and failing that, to satisfy at least all
future generations of our family, that his brother, who knew him best,
had implicit confidence in him, and that he deserved it. A cowardly and
preposterous slander, originating in political malice, and which never have
been whispered had he not been poor and imprudent, is best silenced by this
ordeal of purification. All I possess goes to him if my child dies under
age; and the custody of her person I commit meanwhile to him alone, knowing
that she is as safe in his as she could have been under my own care. I rely
upon your remembrance of our early friendship to make this known wherever
an opportunity occurs, and also to say what your sense of justice may
warrant.'

The other letters were in the same spirit. My heart sank like lead as I
read them. I quaked with fear. What had I done? My father's wise and noble
vindication of our dishonoured name I had presumed to frustrate. I had,
like a coward, receded from my easy share in the task; and, merciful
Heaven, I had broken my faith with the dead!

With these letters in my hand, white with fear, I flew like a shadow to the
drawing-room where Cousin Monica was, and told her to read them. I saw by
her countenance how much alarmed she was by my looks, but she said nothing,
only read the letters hurriedly, and then exclaimed--

'Is this all, my dear child? I really fancied you had found a second will,
and had lost everything. Why, my dearest Maud, we knew all this before.
We quite understood poor dear Austin's motive. Why are you so easily
disturbed?'

'Oh, Cousin Monica, I think he was right; it all seems quite reasonable
now; and I--oh, what a crime!--it must be stopped.'

'My dear Maud, listen to reason. Doctor Bryerly has seen your uncle at
Bartram at least two hours ago. You _can't_ stop it, and why on earth
should you if you could? Don't you think your uncle should be consulted?'
said she.

'But he has _decided_. I have his letter speaking of it as settled; and
Doctor Bryerly--oh, Cousin Monica, he's gone _to tempt him_.'

'Nonsense, girl! Doctor Bryerly is a good and just man, I do believe, and
has, beside, no imaginable motive to pervert either his conscience or his
judgment. He's not gone to tempt him--stuff!--but to unfold the facts and
invite his consideration; and I say, considering how thoughtlessly such
duties are often undertaken, and how long Silas has been living in lazy
solitude, shut out from the world, and unused to discuss anything, I do
think it only conscientious and honourable that he should have a fair and
distinct view of the matter in all its bearings submitted to him before he
indolently incurs what may prove the worst danger he was ever involved in.'

So Lady Knollys argued, with feminine energy, and I must confess, with a
good deal of the repetition which I have sometimes observed in logicians of
my own sex, and she puzzled without satisfying me.

'I don't know why I went to that room,' I said, quite frightened; 'or why I
went to that press; how it happened that these papers, which we never saw
there before, were the first things to strike my eye to-day.'

'What do you mean, dear?' said Lady Knollys.

'I mean this--I think I was _brought_ there, and that _there_ is poor
papa's appeal to me, as plain as if his hand came and wrote it upon the
wall.' I nearly screamed the conclusion of this wild confession.

'You are nervous, my darling; your bad nights have worn you out. Let us go
out; the air will do you good; and I do assure you that you will very soon
see that we are quite right, and rejoice conscientiously that you have
acted as you did.'

But I was not to be satisfied, although my first vehemence was quieted. In
my prayers that night my conscience upbraided me. When I lay down in bed
my nervousness returned fourfold. Everybody at all nervously excitable
has suffered some time or another by the appearance of ghastly features
presenting themselves in every variety of contortion, one after another,
the moment the eyes are closed. This night my dear father's face troubled
me--sometimes white and sharp as ivory, sometimes strangely transparent
like glass, sometimes all hanging in cadaverous folds, always with the same
unnatural expression of diabolical fury.

From this dreadful vision I could only escape by sitting up and staring
at the light. At length, worn out, I dropped asleep, and in a dream I
distinctly heard papa's voice say sharply outside the bed-curtain:--'Maud,
we shall be late at Bartram-Haugh.'

And I awoke in a horror, the wall, as it seemed, still ringing with the
summons, and the speaker, I fancied, standing at the other side of the
curtain.

A miserable night I passed. In the morning, looking myself like a ghost, I
stood in my night-dress by Lady Knollys' bed.

'I have had my warning,' I said. 'Oh, Cousin Monica, papa has been with me,
and ordered me to Bartram-Haugh; and go I will.'

She stared in my face uncomfortably, and then tried to laugh the matter
off; but I know she was troubled at the strange state to which agitation
and suspense had reduced me.

'You're taking too much for granted, Maud,' said she; 'Silas Ruthyn,
most likely, will refuse his consent, and insist on your going to
Bartram-Haugh.'

'Heaven grant!' I exclaimed; 'but if he doesn't, it is all the same to me,
go I will. He may turn me out, but I'll go, and try to expiate the breach
of faith that I fear is so horribly wicked.'

We had several hours still to wait for the arrival of the post. For both of
us the delay was a suspense; for me an almost agonising one. At length,
at an unlooked-for moment, Branston did enter the room with the post-bag.
There was a large letter, with the Feltram post-mark, addressed to Lady
Knollys--it was Doctor Bryerly's despatch; we read it together. It was
dated on the day before, and its purport was thus:--

'RESPECTED MADAM,--I this day saw Mr. Silas Ruthyn at Bartram-Haugh, and
he peremptorily refuses, on any terms, to vacate the guardianship, or to
consent to Miss Ruthyn's residing anywhere but under his own immediate
care. As he bases his refusal, first upon a conscientious difficulty,
declaring that he has no right, through fear of personal contingencies, to
abdicate an office imposed in so solemn a way, and so naturally devolving
on him as only brother to the deceased; and secondly upon the effect such a
withdrawal, at the instance of the acting trustee, would have upon his own
character, amounting to a public self-condemnation; and as he refused to
discuss these positions with me, I could make no way whatsoever with him.
Finding, therefore, that his mind was quite made up, after a short time I
took my leave. He mentioned that preparations for his niece's reception are
being completed, and that he will send for her in a few days; so that I
think it will be advisable that I should go down to Knowl, to assist Miss
Ruthyn with any advice she may require before her departure, to discharge
servants, get inventories made, and provide for the care of the place and
grounds during her minority.

'I am, respected Madam, yours truly,

HANS E. BRYERLY.'

I can't describe to you how chapfallen and angry my cousin looked. She
sniffed once or twice, and then said, rather bitterly, in a subdued tone:--

'Well, _now_; I hope you are pleased?'

'No, no, no; you _know_ I'm not--grieved to the heart, my only friend, my
dear Cousin Monica; but my conscience is at rest; you don't know what a
sacrifice it is; I am a most unhappy creature. I feel an indescribable
foreboding. I am frightened; but you won't forsake me, Cousin Monica.'

'No, darling, never,' she said, sadly.

'And you'll come and see me, won't you, as often as you can?'

'Yes, dear; that is if Silas allows me; and I'm sure he will,' she added
hastily, seeing, I suppose, my terror in my face. 'All I can do, you may be
sure I will, and perhaps he will allow you to come to me, now and then, for
a short visit. You know I am only six miles away--little more than half an
hour's drive, and though I hate Bartram, and detest Silas--Yes, I _detest
Silas_,' she repeated in reply to my surprised gaze--'I _will_ call at
Bartram--that is, I say, if he allows me; for, you know, I haven't been
there for a quarter of a century; and though I never understood Silas, I
fancy he forgives no sins, whether of omission or commission.'

I wondered what old grudge could make my cousin judge Uncle Silas always
so hardly--I could not suppose it was justice. I had seen my hero indeed
lately so disrespectfully handled before my eyes, that he had, as idols
will, lost something of his sacredness. But as an article of faith, I still
cultivated my trust in his divinity, and dismissed every intruding doubt
with an exorcism, as a suggestion of the evil one. But I wronged Lady
Knollys in suspecting her of pique, or malice, or anything more than that
tendency to take strong views which some persons attribute to my sex.

So, then, the little project of Cousin Monica's guardianship, which, had it
been poor papa's wish, would have made me so very happy, was quite knocked
on the head, to revive no more. I comforted myself, however, with her
promise to re-open communications with Bartram-Haugh, and we grew resigned.

I remember, next morning, as we sat at a very late breakfast, Lady Knollys,
reading a letter, suddenly made an exclamation and a little laugh, and read
on with increased interest for a few minutes, and then, with another little
laugh, she looked up, placing her hand, with the open letter in it, beside
her tea-cup.

'You'll not guess whom I've been reading about,' said she, with her head
the least thing on one side, and an arch smile.

I felt myself blushing--cheeks, forehead, even down to the tips of my
fingers. I anticipated the name I was to hear. She looked very much amused.
Was it possible that Captain Oakley was married?

'I really have not the least idea,' I replied, with that kind of overdone
carelessness which betrays us.

'No, I see quite plainly you have not; but you can't think how prettily you
blush,' answered she, very much diverted.

'I really don't care,' I replied, with some little dignity, and blushing
deeper and deeper.

'Will you make a guess?' she asked.

'I _can't_ guess.'

'Well, shall I tell you?'

'Just as you please.'

'Well, I will--that is, I'll read a page of my letter, which tells it all.
Do you know Georgina Fanshawe?' she asked.

'Lady Georgina? No.'

'Well, no matter; she's in Paris now, and this letter is from her, and
she says--let me see the place--"Yesterday, what do you think?--quite an
apparition!--you shall hear. My brother Craven yesterday insisted on my
accompanying him to Le Bas' shop in that odd little antique street near the
Grève; it is a wonderful old curiosity shop. I forget what they call them
here. When we went into this place it was very nearly deserted, and there
were so many curious things to look at all about, that for a minute or two
I did not observe a tall woman, in a grey silk and a black velvet mantle,
and quite a nice new Parisian bonnet. You will be _charmed_, by-the-by,
with the new shape--it is only out three weeks, and is quite
_indescribably_ elegant, _I_ think, at least. They have them, I am sure, by
this time at Molnitz's, so I need say no more. And now that I am on this
subject of dress, I have got your lace; and I think you will be very
ungrateful if you are not _charmed_ with it." Well, I need not read all
that--here is the rest;' and she read--

'"But you'll ask about my mysterious _dame_ in the new bonnet and velvet
mantle; she was sitting on a stool at the counter, not buying, but
evidently selling a quantity of stones and trinkets which she had in a
card-box, and the man was picking them up one by one, and, I suppose,
valuing them. I was near enough to see such a darling little pearl cross,
with at least half a dozen really good pearls in it, and had begun to covet
them for my set, when the lady glanced over my shoulder, and she
knew me--in fact, we knew one another--and who do you think she was?
Well--you'll not guess in a week, and I can't wait so long; so I may as
well tell you at once--she was that horrid old Mademoiselle Blassemare whom
you pointed out to me at Elverston; and I never forgot her face since--nor
she, it seems, mine, for she turned away very quickly, and when I next saw
her, her veil was down."'

'Did not you tell me, Maud, that you had lost your pearl cross while that
dreadful Madame de la Rougierre was here?'

'Yes; but--'

'I know; but what has she to do with Mademoiselle de Blassemare, you were
going to say--they are one and the same person.'

'Oh, I perceive,' answered I, with that dim sense of danger and dismay with
which one hears suddenly of an enemy of whom one has lost sight for a time.

'I'll write and tell Georgie to buy that cross. I wager my life it is
yours,' said Lady Knollys, firmly.

The servants, indeed, made no secret of their opinion of Madame de la
Rougierre, and frankly charged her with a long list of larcenies. Even Anne
Wixted, who had enjoyed her barren favour while the gouvernante was here,
hinted privately that she had bartered a missing piece of lace belonging to
me with a gipsy pedlar, for French gloves and an Irish poplin.

'And so surely as I find it is yours, I'll set the police in pursuit.'

'But you must not bring me into court,' said I, half amused and half
alarmed.

'No occasion, my dear; Mary Quince and Mrs. Rusk can prove it perfectly.'

'And why do you dislike her so very much?' I asked.

Cousin Monica leaned back in her chair, and searched the cornice from
corner to corner with upturned eyes for the reason, and at last laughed a
little, amused at herself.

'Well, really, it is not easy to define, and, perhaps, it is not quite
charitable; but I know I hate her, and I know, you little hypocrite, you
hate her as much as I;' and we both laughed a little.

'But you must tell me all you know of her history.'

'Her history?' echoed she. 'I really know next to nothing about it; only
that I used to see her sometimes about the place that Georgina mentions,
and there were some unpleasant things said about her; but you know they may
be all lies. The worst I _know_ of her is her treatment of you, and her
robbing the desk'--(Cousin Monica always called it her _robbery_)--'and I
think that's enough to hang her. Suppose we go out for a walk?'

So together we went, and I resumed about Madame; but no more could I
extract--perhaps there was not much more to hear.




CHAPTER XXX

_ON THE ROAD_


All at Knowl was indicative of the break-up that was so near at hand.
Doctor Bryerly arrived according to promise. He was in a whirl of business
all the time. He and Mr. Danvers conferred about the management of the
estate. It was agreed that the grounds and gardens should be let, but not
the house, of which Mrs. Rusk was to take the care. The gamekeeper remained
in office, and some out-door servants. But the rest were to go, except Mary
Quince, who was to accompany me to Bartram-Haugh as my maid.

'Don't part with Quince,' said Lady Knollys, peremptorily 'they'll want
you, but _don't_.'

She kept harping on this point, and recurred to it half a dozen times every
day.

'They'll say, you know, that she is not fit for a lady's maid, as she
certainly is _not_, if it in the least signified in such a wilderness as
Bartram-Haugh; but she is attached, trustworthy, and honest; and those are
qualities valuable everywhere, especially in a solitude. Don't allow them
to get you a wicked young French milliner in her stead.'

Sometimes she said things that jarred unpleasantly on my nerves, and left
an undefined sense of danger. Such as:--

'I know she's true to you, and a good creature; but is she shrewd enough?'

Or, with an anxious look:--

'I hope Mary Quince is not easily frightened.'

Or, suddenly:--

'Can Mary Quince write, in case you were ill?'

Or,

'Can she take a message exactly?'

Or,

'Is she a person of any enterprise and resource, and cool in an emergency?'

Now, these questions did not come all in a string, as I write them down
here, but at long intervals, and were followed quickly by ordinary talk;
but they generally escaped from my companion after silence and gloomy
thought; and though I could extract nothing more defined than these
questions, yet they seemed to me to point at some possible danger
contemplated in my good cousin's dismal ruminations.

Another topic that occupied my cousin's mind a good deal was obviously the
larceny of my pearl cross. She made a note of the description furnished by
the recollection, respectively, of Mary Quince, Mrs. Rusk, and myself. I
had fancied her little vision of the police was no more than the result of
a momentary impulse; but really, to judge by her methodical examinations of
us, I should have fancied that she had taken it up in downright earnest.

Having learned that my departure from Knowl was to be so very soon, she
resolved not to leave me before the day of my journey to Bartram-Haugh; and
as day after day passed by, and the hour of our leave-taking approached,
she became more and more kind and affectionate. A feverish and sorrowful
interval it was to me.

Of Doctor Bryerly, though staying in the house, we saw almost nothing,
except for an hour or so at tea-time. He breakfasted very early, and dined
solitarily, and at uncertain hours, as business permitted.

The second evening of his visit, Cousin Monica took occasion to introduce
the subject of his visit to Bartram-Haugh.

'You saw him, of course?' said Lady Knollys.

'Yes, he saw me; he was not well. On hearing who I was, he asked me to go
to his room, where he sat in a silk dressing-gown and slippers.'

'About business principally,' said Cousin Monica, laconically.

'That was despatched in very few words; for he was quite resolved, and
placed his refusal upon grounds which it was difficult to dispute. But
difficult or no, mind you, he intimated that he would hear nothing more on
the subject--so that was closed.'

'Well; and what is his religion now?' inquired she, irreverently.

'We had some interesting conversation on the subject. He leans much to what
we call the doctrine of correspondents. He is read rather deeply in the
writings of Swedenborg, and seemed anxious to discuss some points with one
who professes to be his follower. To say truth, I did not expect to find
him either so well read or so deeply interested in the subject.'

'Was he angry when it was proposed that he should vacate the guardianship?'

'Not at all. Contrariwise, he said he had at first been so minded himself.
His years, his habits, and something of the unfitness of the situation, the
remoteness of Bartram-Haugh from good teachers, and all that, had struck
him, and nearly determined him against accepting the office. But then came
the views which I stated in my letter, and they governed him; and nothing
could shake them, he said, or induce him to re-open the question in his own
mind.'

All the time Doctor Bryerly was relating his conference with the head of
the family at Bartram-Haugh my cousin commented on the narrative with a
variety of little 'pishes' and sneers, which I thought showed more of
vexation than contempt.

I was glad to hear all that Doctor Bryerly related. It gave me a kind
of confidence; and I experienced a momentary reaction. After all, could
Bartram-Haugh be more lonely than I had found Knowl? Was I not sure of the
society of my Cousin Millicent, who was about my own age? Was it not quite
possible that my sojourn in Derbyshire might turn out a happy though very
quiet remembrance through all my after-life? Why should it not? What time
or place would be happy if we gave ourselves over to dismal imaginations?

So the summons reached me from Uncle Silas. The hours at Knowl were
numbered.

The evening before I departed I visited the full-length portrait of Uncle
Silas, and studied it for the last time carefully, with deep interest, for
many minutes; but with results vaguer than ever.

With a brother so generous and so wealthy, always ready to help him
forward; with his talents; with his lithe and gorgeous beauty, the shadow
of which hung on that canvas--what might he not have accomplished? whom
might he not have captivated? And yet where and what was he? A poor and
shunned old man, occupying a lonely house and place that did not belong to
him, married to degradation, with a few years of suspected and solitary
life before him, and then swift oblivion his best portion.

I gazed on the picture, to fix it well and vividly in my remembrance. I
might still trace some of its outlines and tints in its living original,
whom I was next day to see for the first time in my life.

So the morning came--my last for many a day at Knowl--a day of partings, a
day of novelty and regrets. The travelling carriage and post horses were
at the door. Cousin Monica's carriage had just carried her away to the
railway. We had embraced with tears; and her kind face was still before me,
and her words of comfort and promise in my ears. The early sharpness
of morning was still in the air; the frosty dew still glistened on the
window-panes. We had made a hasty breakfast, my share of which was a single
cup of tea. The aspect of the house how strange! Uncarpeted, uninhabited,
doors for the most part locked, all the servants but Mrs. Rusk and Branston
departed. The drawing-room door stood open, and a charwoman was washing the
bare floor. I was looking my last--for who could say how long?--on the old
house, and lingered. The luggage was all up. I made Mary Quince get in
first, for every delay was precious; and now the moment was come. I hugged
and kissed Mrs. Rusk in the hall.

'God bless you, Miss Maud, darling. You must not fret; mind, the time won't
be long going over--_no_ time at all; and you'll be bringing back a fine
young gentleman--who knows? as great as the Duke of Wellington, for your
husband; and I'll take the best of care of everything, and the birds and
the dogs, till you come back; and I'll go and see you and Mary, if you'll
allow, in Derbyshire;' and so forth.

I got into the carriage, and bid Branston, who shut the door, good-bye,
and kissed hands to Mrs. Rusk, who was smiling and drying her eyes and
courtesying on the hall-door steps. The dogs, who had started gleefully
with the carriage, were called back by Branston, and driven home, wondering
and wistful, looking back with ears oddly cocked and tails dejected. My
heart thanked them for their kindness, and I felt like a stranger, and very
desolate.

It was a bright, clear morning. It had been settled that it was not
worth the trouble changing from the carriage to the railway for sake of
five-and-twenty miles, and so the entire journey of sixty miles was to be
made by the post road--the pleasantest travelling, if the mind were free.
The grander and more distant features of the landscape we may see well
enough from the window of the railway-carriage; but it is the foreground
that interests and instructs us, like a pleasant gossiping history; and
_that_ we had, in old days, from the post-chaise window. It was more
than travelling picquet. Something of all conditions of life--luxury
and misery--high spirits and low;--all sorts of costume, livery, rags,
millinery; faces buxom, faces wrinkled, faces kind, faces wicked;--no end
of interest and suggestion, passing in a procession silent and vivid, and
all in their proper scenery. The golden corn-sheafs--the old dark-alleyed
orchards, and the high streets of antique towns. There were few dreams
brighter, few books so pleasant.

We drove by the dark wood--it always looked dark to me--where the
'mausoleum' stands--where my dear parents both lay now. I gazed on its
sombre masses not with a softened feeling, but a peculiar sense of pain,
and was glad when it was quite past.

All the morning I had not shed a tear. Good Mary Quince cried at leaving
Knowl; Lady Knollys' eyes were not dry as she kissed and blessed me,
and promised an early visit; and the dark, lean, energetic face of the
housekeeper was quivering, and her cheeks wet, as I drove away. But I,
whose grief was sorest, never shed a tear. I only looked about from one
familiar object to another, pale, excited, not quite apprehending my
departure, and wondering at my own composure.

But when we reached the old bridge, with the tall osiers standing by the
buttress, and looked back at poor Knowl--the places we love and are leaving
look so fairy-like and so sad in the clear distance, and this is the finest
view of the gabled old house, with its slanting meadow-lands and noble
timber reposing in solemn groups--I gazed at the receding vision, and the
tears came at last, and I wept in silence long after the fair picture was
hidden from view by the intervening uplands.

I was relieved, and when we had made our next change of horses, and got
into a country that was unknown to me, the new scenery and the sense of
progress worked their accustomed effects on a young traveller who had lived
a particularly secluded life, and I began to experience, on the whole, a
not unpleasurable excitement.

Mary Quince and I, with the hopefulness of inexperienced travellers, began
already to speculate about our proximity to Bartram-Haugh, and were sorely
disappointed when we heard from the nondescript courier--more like a
ostler than a servant, who sat behind in charge of us and the luggage, and
represented my guardian's special care--at nearly one o'clock, that we had
still forty miles to go, a considerable portion of which was across the
high Derbyshire mountains, before we reached Bartram-Haugh.

The fact was, we had driven at a pace accommodated rather to the
convenience of the horses than to our impatience; and finding, at the
quaint little inn where we now halted, that we must wait for a nail or two
in a loose shoe of one of our relay, we consulted, and being both hungry,
agreed to beguile the time with an early dinner, which we enjoyed very
sociably in a queer little parlour with a bow window, and commanding, with
a litle garden for foreground, a very pretty landscape.

Good Mary Quince, like myself, had quite dried her tears by this time, and
we were both highly interested, and I a little nervous, too, about our
arrival and reception at Bartram. Some time, of course, was lost in this
pleasant little parlour, before we found ourselves once more pursuing our
way.

The slowest part of our journey was the pull up the long mountain road,
ascending zig-zag, as sailors make way against a head-wind, by tacking. I
forget the name of the pretty little group of houses--it did not amount
to a village--buried in trees, where we got our _four_ horses and two
postilions, for the work was severe. I can only designate it as the place
where Mary Quince and I had our tea, very comfortably, and bought some
gingerbread, very curious to look upon, but quite uneatable.

The greater portion of the ascent, when we were fairly upon the mountain,
was accomplished at a walk, and at some particularly steep points we had to
get out and go on foot. But this to me was quite delightful. I had never
scaled a mountain before, and the ferns and heath, the pure boisterous air,
and above all the magnificent view of the rich country we were leaving
behind, now gorgeous and misty in sunset tints, stretching in gentle
undulations far beneath us, quite enchanted me.

We had just reached the summit when the sun went down. The low grounds at
the other side were already lying in cold grey shadow, and I got the man
who sat behind to point out as well as he could the site of Bartram-Haugh.
But mist was gathering over all by this time. The filmy disk of the moon
which was to light us on, so soon as twilight faded into night, hung high
in air. I tried to see the sable mass of wood which he described. But it
was vain, and to acquire a clear idea of the place, as of its master, I
must only wait that nearer view which an hour or two more would afford me.

And now we rapidly descended the mountain side. The scenery was wilder
and bolder than I was accustomed to. Our road skirted the edge of a great
heathy moor. The silvery light of the moon began to glimmer, and we passed
a gipsy bivouac with fires alight and caldrons hanging over them. It was
the first I had seen. Two or three low tents; a couple of dark, withered
crones, veritable witches; a graceful girl standing behind, gazing after
us; and men in odd-shaped hats, with gaudy waistcoats and bright-coloured
neck-handkerchiefs and gaitered legs, stood lazily in front. They had all
a wild tawdry display of colour; and a group of alders in the rear made a
background of shade for tents, fires, and figures.

I opened a front window of the chariot, and called to the postboys to stop.
The groom from behind came to the window.

'Are not those gipsies?' I enquired.

'Yes, please'm, them's gipsies, sure, Miss,' he answered, glancing with
that odd smile, half contemptuous, half superstitious, with which I have
since often observed the peasants of Derbyshire eyeing those thievish and
uncanny neighbours.




CHAPTER XXXI

_BARTRAM-HAUGH_


In a moment a tall, lithe girl, black-haired, black-eyed, and, as I
thought, inexpressibly handsome, was smiling, with such beautiful rings of
pearly teeth, at the window; and in her peculiar accent, with a suspicion
of something foreign in it, proposing with many courtesies to tell the lady
her fortune.

I had never seen this wild tribe of the human race before--children of
mystery and liberty. Such vagabondism and beauty in the figure before me!
I looked at their hovels and thought of the night, and wondered at their
independence, and felt my inferiority. I could not resist. She held up her
slim oriental hand.

'Yes, I'll hear my fortune,' I said, returning the sibyl's smile
instinctively.

'Give me some money, Mary Quince. No, _not_ that,' I said, rejecting the
thrifty sixpence she tendered, for I had heard that the revelations of
this weird sisterhood were bright in proportion to the kindness of their
clients, and was resolved to approach Bartram with cheerful auguries. 'That
five-shilling piece,' I insisted; and honest Mary reluctantly surrendered
the coin.

So the feline beauty took it, with courtesies and 'thankees,' smiling
still, and hid it away as if she stole it, and looked on my open palm still
smiling; and told me, to my surprise, that there was _somebody_ I liked
very much, and I was almost afraid she would name Captain Oakley; that he
would grow very rich, and that I should marry him; that I should move about
from place to place a great deal for a good while to come. That I had some
enemies, who should be sometimes so near as to be in the same room with me,
and yet they should not be able to hurt me. That I should see blood spilt
and yet not my own, and finally be very happy and splendid, like the
heroine of a fairy tale.

Did this strange, girlish charlatan see in my face some signs of shrinking
when she spoke of enemies, and set me down for a coward whose weakness
might be profitable? Very likely. At all events she plucked a long brass
pin, with a round bead for a head, from some part of her dress, and holding
the point in her fingers, and exhibiting the treasure before my eyes, she
told me that I must get a charmed pin like that, which her grandmother had
given to her, and she ran glibly through a story of all the magic expended
on it, and told me she could not part with it; but its virtue was that you
were to stick it through the blanket, and while it was there neither rat,
nor cat, nor snake--and then came two more terms in the catalogue, which I
suppose belonged to the gipsy dialect, and which she explained to mean, as
well as I could understand, the first a malevolent spirit, and the second
'a cove to cut your throat,' could approach or hurt you.

A charm like that, she gave me to understand, I must by hook or by crook
obtain. She had not a second. None of her people in the camp over there
possessed one. I am ashamed to confess that I actually paid her a pound for
this brass pin! The purchase was partly an indication of my temperament,
which could never let an opportunity pass away irrevocably without a
struggle, and always apprehended 'Some day or other I'll reproach myself
for having neglected it!' and partly a record of the trepidations of that
period of my life. At all events I had her pin, and she my pound, and I
venture to say I was the gladder of the two.

She stood on the road-side bank courtseying and smiling, the first
enchantress I had encountered, and I watched the receding picture, with its
patches of firelight, its dusky groups and donkey carts, white as skeletons
in the moonlight, as we drove rapidly away.

They, I suppose, had a wild sneer and a merry laugh over my purchase, as
they sat and ate their supper of stolen poultry, about their fire, and were
duly proud of belonging to the superior race.

Mary Quince, shocked at my prodigality, hinted a remonstrance.

'It went to my heart, Miss, it did. They're such a lot, young and old, all
alike thieves and vagabonds, and many a poor body wanting.'

'Tut, Mary, never mind. Everyone has her fortune told some time in her
life, and you can't have a good one without paying. I think, Mary, we must
be near Bartram now.'

The road now traversed the side of a steep hill, parallel to which,
along the opposite side of a winding river, rose the dark steeps of a
corresponding upland, covered with forest that looked awful and dim in the
deep shadow, while the moonlight rippled fitfully upon the stream beneath.

'It seems to be a beautiful country,' I said to Mary Quince, who was
munching a sandwich in the corner, and thus appealed to, adjusted her
bonnet, and made an inspection from _her_ window, which, however, commanded
nothing but the heathy slope of the hill whose side we were traversing.

'Well, Miss, I suppose it is; but there's a deal o' mountains--is not
there?'

And so saying, honest Mary leaned back again, and went on with her
sandwich.

We were now descending at a great pace. I knew we were coming near. I stood
up as well as I could in the carriage, to see over the postilions' heads.
I was eager, but frightened too; agitated as the crisis of the arrival and
meeting approached. At last, a long stretch of comparatively level
country below us, with masses of wood as well as I could see irregularly
overspreading it, became visible as the narrow valley through which we were
speeding made a sudden bend.

Down we drove, and now I did perceive a change. A great grass-grown
park-wall, overtopped with mighty trees; but still on and on we came at a
canter that seemed almost a gallop. The old grey park-wall flanking us at
one side, and a pretty pastoral hedgerow of ash-trees, irregularly on the
other.

At last the postilions began to draw bridle, and at a slight angle, the
moon shining full upon them, we wheeled into a wide semicircle formed by
the receding park-walls, and halted before a great fantastic iron gate, and
a pair of tall fluted piers, of white stone, all grass-grown and ivy-bound,
with great cornices, surmounted with shields and supporters, the Ruthyn
bearings washed by the rains of Derbyshire for many a generation of
Ruthyns, almost smooth by this time, and looking bleached and phantasmal,
like giant sentinels, with each a hand clasped in his comrade's, to bar
our passage to the enchanted castle--the florid tracery of the iron gate
showing like the draperies of white robes hanging from their extended arms
to the earth.

Our courier got down and shoved the great gate open, and we entered,
between sombre files of magnificent forest trees, one of those very broad
straight avenues whose width measures the front of the house. This was all
built of white stone, resembling that of Caen, which parts of Derbyshire
produce in such abundance.

So this was Bartram, and here was Uncle Silas. I was almost breathless as
I approached. The bright moon shining full on the white front of the old
house revealed not only its highly decorated style, its fluted pillars and
doorway, rich and florid carving, and balustraded summit, but also its
stained and moss-grown front. Two giant trees, overthrown at last by the
recent storm, lay with their upturned roots, and their yellow foliage still
flickering on the sprays that were to bloom no more, where they had fallen,
at the right side of the court-yard, which, like the avenue, was studded
with tufted weeds and grass.

All this gave to the aspect of Bartram a forlorn character of desertion and
decay, contrasting almost awfully with the grandeur of its proportions and
richness of its architecture.

There was a ruddy glow from a broad window in the second row, and I thought
I saw some one peep from it and disappear; at the same moment there was a
furious barking of dogs, some of whom ran scampering into the court-yard
from a half-closed side door; and amid their uproar, the bawling of the man
in the back seat, who jumped down to drive them off, and the crack of
the postilions' whips, who struck at them, we drew up before the lordly
door-steps of this melancholy mansion.

Just as our attendant had his hand on the knocker the door opened, and we
saw, by a not very brilliant candle-light, three figures--a shabby little
old man, thin, and very much stooped, with a white cravat, and looking as
if his black clothes were too large, and made for some one else, stood with
his hand upon the door; a young, plump, but very pretty female figure, in
unusually short petticoats, with fattish legs, and nice ankles, in boots,
stood in the centre; and a dowdy maid, like an old charwoman, behind her.

The household paraded for welcome was not certainly very brilliant. Amid
the riot the trunks were deliberately put down by our attendant, who kept
shouting to the old man at the door, and to the dogs in turn; and the old
man was talking and pointing stiffly and tremulously, but I could not hear
what he said.

'Was it possible--could that mean-looking old man be Uncle Silas?'

The idea stunned me; but I almost instantly perceived that he was much too
small, and I was relieved, and even grateful. It was certainly an odd mode
of procedure to devote primary attention to the trunks and boxes, leaving
the travellers still shut up in the carriage, of which they were by this
time pretty well tired. I was not sorry for the reprieve, however: being
nervous about first impressions, and willing to defer mine, I sat shyly
back, peeping at the candle and moonlight picture before me, myself unseen.

'Will you tell--yes or no--is my cousin in the coach?' screamed the plump
young lady, stamping her stout black boot, in a momentary lull.

Yes, I was there, sure.

'And why the puck don't you let her out, you stupe, you?'

'Run down, Giblets, you never do nout without driving, and let Cousin Maud
out. You're very welcome to Bartram.' This greeting was screamed at an
amazing pitch, and repeated before I had time to drop the window, and say
'thank you.' 'I'd a let you out myself--there's a good dog, you would na'
bite Cousin' (the parenthesis was to a huge mastiff, who thrust himself
beside her, by this time quite pacified)--'only I daren't go down the
steps, for the governor said I shouldn't.'

The venerable person who went by the name of Giblets had by this time
opened the carriage door, and our courier, or 'boots'--he looked more like
the latter functionary--had lowered the steps, and in greater trepidation
than I experienced when in after-days I was presented to my sovereign,
I glided down, to offer myself to the greeting and inspection of the
plain-spoken young lady who stood at the top of the steps to receive me.

She welcomed me with a hug and a hearty buss, as she called that
salutation, on each cheek, and pulled me into the hall, and was evidently
glad to see me.

'And you're tired a bit, I warrant; and who's the old 'un, who?' she asked
eagerly, in a stage whisper, which made my ear numb for five minutes after.
'Oh, oh, the maid! and a precious old 'un--ha, ha, ha! But lawk! how grand
she is, with her black silk, cloak and crape, and I only in twilled cotton,
and rotten old Coburg for Sundays. Odds! it's a shame; but you'll be tired,
you will. It's a smartish pull, they do say, from Knowl. I know a spell of
it, only so far as the "Cat and Fiddle," near the Lunnon-road. Come up,
will you? Would you like to come in first and talk a bit wi' the governor?
Father, you know, he's a bit silly, he is, this while.' I found that
the phrase meant only _bodily_ infirmity. 'He took a pain o' Friday,
newralgie--something or other he calls it--rheumatics it is when it takes
old "Giblets" there; and he's sitting in his own room; or maybe you'd like
better to come to your bedroom first, for it is dirty work travelling, they
do say.'

Yes; I preferred the preliminary adjustment. Mary Quince was standing
behind me; and as my voluble kinswoman talked on, we had each ample time
and opportunity to observe the personnel of the other; and she made no
scruple of letting me perceive that she was improving it, for she stared me
full in the face, taking in evidently feature after feature; and she felt
the material of my mantle pretty carefully between her finger and thumb,
and manually examined my chain and trinkets, and picked up my hand as she
might a glove, to con over my rings.

I can't say, of course, exactly what impression I may have produced on her.
But in my cousin Milly I saw a girl who looked younger than her years,
plump, but with a slender waist, with light hair, lighter than mine, and
very blue eyes, rather round; on the whole very good-looking. She had an
odd swaggering walk, a toss of her head, and a saucy and imperious, but
rather good-natured and honest countenance. She talked rather loud, with a
good ringing voice, and a boisterous laugh when it came.

If _I_ was behind the fashion, what would Cousin Monica have thought of
her? She was arrayed, as she had stated, in black twilled cotton expressive
of her affliction; but it was made almost as short in the skirt as that of
the prints of the Bavarian broom girls. She had white cotton stockings,
and a pair of black leather boots, with leather buttons, and, for a lady,
prodigiously thick soles, which reminded me of the navvy boots I had so
often admired in _Punch_. I must add that the hands with which she assisted
her scrutiny of my dress, though pretty, were very much sunburnt indeed.

'And what's _her_ name?' she demanded, nodding to Mary Quince, who was
gazing on her awfully, with round eyes, as an inland spinster might upon a
whale beheld for the first time.

Mary courtesied, and I answered.

'Mary Quince,' she repeated. 'You're welcome, Quince. What shall I call
her? I've a name for all o' them. Old Giles there, is Giblets. He did not
like it first, but he answers quick enough now; and Old Lucy Wyat there,'
nodding toward the old woman, 'is Lucia de l'Amour.' A slightly erroneous
reading of Lammermoor, for my cousin sometimes made mistakes, and was not
much versed in the Italian opera. 'You know it's a play, and I call her
L'Amour for shortness;' and she laughed hilariously, and I could not
forbear joining; and, winking at me, she called aloud, 'L'Amour.'

To which the crone, with a high-cauled cap, resembling Mother Hubbard,
responded with a courtesy and 'Yes,'m.'

'Are all the trunks and boxes took up?'

They were.

'Well, we'll come now; and what shall I call you, Quince? Let me see.'

'According to your pleasure, Miss,' answered Mary, with dignity, and a dry
courtesy.

'Why, you're as hoarse as a frog, Quince. We'll call you Quinzy for the
present. That'll do. Come along, Quinzy.'

So my Cousin Milly took me under the arm, and pulled me forward; but as we
ascended, she let me go, leaning back to make inspection of my attire from
a new point of view.

'Hallo, cousin,' she cried, giving my dress a smack with her open hand.
'What a plague do you want of all that bustle; you'll leave it behind,
lass, the first bush you jump over.'

I was a good deal astounded. I was also very near laughing, for there was
a sort of importance in her plump countenance, and an indescribable
grotesqueness in the fashion of her garments, which heightened the
outlandishness of her talk, in a way which I cannot at all describe.

What palatial wide stairs those were which we ascended, with their
prodigious carved banisters of oak, and each huge pillar on the
landing-place crowned with a shield and carved heraldic supporters; florid
oak panelling covered the walls. But of the house I could form no estimate,
for Uncle Silas's housekeeping did not provide light for hall and passages,
and we were dependent on the glimmer of a single candle; but there would be
quite enough of this kind of exploration in the daylight.

So along dark oak flooring we advanced to my room, and I had now an
opportunity of admiring, at my leisure, the lordly proportions of the
building. Two great windows, with dark and tarnished curtains, rose half as
high again as the windows of Knowl; and yet Knowl, in its own style, is a
fine house. The door-frames, like the window-frames, were richly carved;
the fireplace was in the same massive style, and the mantelpiece projected
with a mass of very rich carving. On the whole I was surprised. I had never
slept in so noble a room before.

The furniture, I must confess, was by no means on a par with the
architectural pretensions of the apartment. A French bed, a piece of carpet
about three yards square, a small table, two chairs, a toilet table--no
wardrobe--no chest of drawers. The furniture painted white, and of the
light and diminutive kind, was particularly ill adapted to the scale and
style of the apartment, one end only of which it occupied, and that but
sparsely, leaving the rest of the chamber in the nakedness of a stately
desolation. My cousin Milly ran away to report progress to 'the Governor,'
as she termed Uncle Silas.

'Well, Miss Maud, I never did expect to see the like o' that!' exclaimed
honest Mary Quince, 'Did you ever see such a young lady? She's no more like
one o' the family than I am. Law bless us! and what's she dressed like?
Well, well, well!' And Mary, with a rueful shake of her head, clicked her
tongue pathetically to the back of her teeth, while I could not forbear
laughing.

'And such a scrap o' furniture! Well, well, well!' and the same ticking of
the tongue followed.

But, in a few minutes, back came Cousin Milly, and, with a barbarous
sort of curiosity, assisted in unpacking my trunks, and stowing away the
treasures, on which she ventured a variety of admiring criticisms, in the
presses which, like cupboards, filled recesses in the walls, with great oak
doors, the keys of which were in them.

As I was making my hurried toilet, she entertained me now and then with
more strictly personal criticisms.

'Your hair's a shade darker than mine--it's none the better o' that
though--is it? Mine's said to be the right shade. I don't know--what do you
say?'

I conceded the point with a good grace.

'I wish my hands was as white though--you do lick me there; but it's all
gloves, and I never could abide 'em. I think I'll try though--they _are_
very white, sure.'

'I wonder which is the prettiest, you or me? _I_ don't know, _I_'m
sure--which do _you_ think?'

I laughed outright at this challenge, and she blushed a little, and for the
first time seemed for a moment a little shy.

'Well, you _are_ a half an inch longer than me, I think--don't you?'

I was fully an inch taller, so I had no difficulty in making the proposed
admission.

'Well, you do look handsome! doesn't she, Quinzy, lass? but your frock
comes down almost to your heels--it does.'

And she glanced from mine to hers, and made a little kick up with the heel
of the navvy boot to assist her in measuring the comparative distance.

'Maybe mine's a thought too short?' she suggested. 'Who's there? Oh! it's
you, is it?' she cried as Mother Hubbard appeared at the door. 'Come in,
L'Amour--don't you know, lass, you're always welcome?'

She had come to let us know that Uncle Silas would be happy to see me
whenever I was ready; and that my cousin Millicent would conduct me to the
room where he awaited me.

In an instant all the comic sensations awakened by my singular cousin's
eccentricities vanished, and I was thrilled with awe. I was about to see
in the flesh--faded, broken, aged, but still identical--that being who had
been the vision and the problem of so many years of my short life.




CHAPTER XXXII

_UNCLE SILAS_


I thought my odd cousin was also impressed with a kind of awe, though
different in degree from mine, for a shade overcast her face, and she was
silent as we walked side by side along the gallery, accompanied by the
crone who carried the candle which lighted us to the door of that apartment
which I may call Uncle Silas's presence chamber.

Milly whispered to me as we approached--

'Mind how you make a noise; the governor's as sharp as a weasel, and
nothing vexes him like that.'

She was herself toppling along on tiptoe. We paused at a door near the head
of the great staircase, and L'Amour knocked timidly with her rheumatic
knuckles.

A voice, clear and penetrating, from within summoned us to enter. The old
woman opened the door, and the next moment I was in the presence of Uncle
Silas.

At the far end of a handsome wainscoted room, near the hearth in which a
low fire was burning, beside a small table on which stood four waxlights,
in tall silver candlesticks, sat a singular-looking old man.

The dark wainscoting behind him, and the vastness of the room, in the
remoter parts of which the light which fell strongly upon his face and
figure expended itself with hardly any effect, exhibited him with the
forcible and strange relief of a finely painted Dutch portrait. For some
time I saw nothing but him.

A face like marble, with a fearful monumental look, and, for an old man,
singularly vivid strange eyes, the singularity of which rather grew upon me
as I looked; for his eyebrows were still black, though his hair descended
from his temples in long locks of the purest silver and fine as silk,
nearly to his shoulders.

He rose, tall and slight, a little stooped, all in black, with an ample
black velvet tunic, which was rather a gown than a coat, with loose
sleeves, showing his snowy shirt some way up the arm, and a pair of wrist
buttons, then quite out of fashion, which glimmered aristocratically with
diamonds.

I know I can't convey in words an idea of this apparition, drawn as it
seemed in black and white, venerable, bloodless, fiery-eyed, with its
singular look of power, and an expression so bewildering--was it derision,
or anguish, or cruelty, or patience?

The wild eyes of this strange old man were fixed upon me as he rose; an
habitual contraction, which in certain lights took the character of a
scowl, did not relax as he advanced toward me with his thin-lipped smile.
He said something in his clear, gentle, but cold voice, the import of
which I was too much agitated to catch, and he took both my hands in his,
welcomed me with a courtly grace which belonged to another age, and led me
affectionately, with many inquiries which I only half comprehended, to a
chair near his own.

'I need not introduce my daughter; she has saved me that mortification.
You'll find her, I believe, good-natured and affectionate; _au reste_, I
fear a very rustic Miranda, and fitted rather for the society of Caliban
than of a sick old Prospero. Is it not so, Millicent?'

The old man paused sarcastically for an answer, with his eyes fixed
severely on my odd cousin, who blushed and looked uneasily to me for a
hint.

'I don't know who they be--neither one nor t'other.'

'Very good, my dear,' he replied, with a little mocking bow. 'You see, my
dear Maud, what a Shakespearean you have got for a cousin. It's plain,
however, she has made acquaintance with some of our dramatists: she has
studied the rôle of _Miss Hoyden_ so perfectly.'

It was not a reasonable peculiarity of my uncle that he resented, with a
good deal of playful acrimony, my poor cousin's want of education, for
which, if he were not to blame, certainly neither was she.

'You see her, poor thing, a result of all the combined disadvantages of
want of refined education, refined companionship, and, I fear, naturally,
of refined tastes; but a sojourn at a good French conventual school will
do wonders, and I hope to manage by-and-by. In the meantime we jest at our
misfortunes, and love one another, I hope, cordially.'

He extended his thin, white hand with a chilly smile towards Milly, who
bounced up, and took it with a frightened look; and he repeated, holding
her hand rather slightly I thought, 'Yes, I hope, very cordially,' and then
turning again to me, he put it over the arm of his chair, and let it go, as
a man might drop something he did not want from a carriage window.

Having made this apology for poor Milly, who was plainly bewildered, he
passed on, to her and my relief, to other topics, every now and then
expressing his fears that I was fatigued, and his anxiety that I should
partake of some supper or tea; but these solicitudes somehow seemed to
escape his remembrance almost as soon as uttered; and he maintained the
conversation, which soon degenerated into a close, and to me a painful
examination, respecting my dear father's illness and its symptoms, upon
which I could give no information, and his habits, upon which I could.

Perhaps he fancied that there might be some family predisposition to the
organic disease of which his brother died, and that his questions were
directed rather to the prolonging of his own life than to the better
understanding of my dear father's death.

How little was there left to this old man to make life desirable, and yet
how keenly, I afterwards found, he clung to it. Have we not all of us seen
those to whom life was not only _undesirable_, but positively painful--a
mere series of bodily torments, yet hold to it with a desperate and
pitiable tenacity--old children or young, it is all the same.

See how a sleepy child will put off the inevitable departure for bed. The
little creature's eyes blink and stare, and it needs constant jogging to
prevent his nodding off into the slumber which nature craves. His waking is
a pain; he is quite worn out, and peevish, and stupid, and yet he implores
a respite, and deprecates repose, and vows he is not sleepy, even to the
moment when his mother takes him in her arms, and carries him, in a sweet
slumber, to the nursery. So it is with us old children of earth and the
great sleep of death, and nature our kind mother. Just so reluctantly we
part with consciousness, the picture is, even to the last, so interesting;
the bird in the hand, though sick and moulting, so inestimably better than
all the brilliant tenants of the bush. We sit up, yawning, and blinking,
and stupid, the whole scene swimming before us, and the stories and music
humming off into the sound of distant winds and waters. It is not time yet;
we are not fatigued; we are good for another hour still, and so protesting
against bed, we falter and drop into the dreamless sleep which nature
assigns to fatigue and satiety.

He then spoke a little eulogy of his brother, very polished, and,
indeed, in a kind of way, eloquent. He possessed in a high degree that
accomplishment, too little cultivated, I think, by the present generation,
of expressing himself with perfect precision and fluency. There was, too,
a good deal of slight illustrative quotation, and a sprinkling of French
flowers, over his conversation, which gave to it a character at once
elegant and artificial. It was all easy, light, and pointed, and being
quite new to me, had a wonderful fascination.

He then told me that Bartram was the temple of liberty, that the health of
a whole life was founded in a few years of youth, air, and exercise, and
that accomplishments, at least, if not education, should wait upon health.
Therefore, while at Bartram, I should dispose of my time quite as I
pleased, and the more I plundered the garden and gipsied in the woodlands,
the better.

Then he told me what a miserable invalid he was, and how the doctors
interfered with his frugal tastes. A glass of beer and a mutton chop--his
ideal of a dinner--he dared not touch. They made him drink light wines,
which he detested, and live upon those artificial abominations all liking
for which vanishes with youth.

There stood on a side-table, in its silver coaster, a long-necked Rhenish
bottle, and beside it a thin pink glass, and he quivered his fingers in a
peevish way toward them.

But unless he found himself better very soon, he would take his case into
his own hands, and try the dietary to which nature pointed.

He waved his fingers toward his bookcases, and told me his books were
altogether at my service during my stay; but this promise ended, I must
confess, disappointingly. At last, remarking that I must be fatigued, he
rose, and kissed me with a solemn tenderness, placed his hand upon what I
now perceived to be a large Bible, with two broad silk markers, red and
gold, folded in it--the one, I might conjecture, indicating the place in
the Old, the other in the New Testament. It stood on the small table that
supported the waxlights, with a handsome cut bottle of eau-de-cologne, his
gold and jewelled pencil-case, and his chased repeater, chain, and seals,
beside it. There certainly were no indications of poverty in Uncle Silas's
room; and he said impressively--

'Remember that book; in it your father placed his trust, in it he found his
reward, in it lives my only hope; consult it, my beloved niece, day and
night, as the oracle of life.'

Then he laid his thin hand on my head, and blessed me, and then kissed my
forehead.

'No--a!' exclaimed Cousin Milly's lusty voice. I had quite forgotten her
presence, and looked at her with a little start. She was seated on a very
high old-fashioned chair; she had palpably been asleep; her round eyes were
blinking and staring glassily at us; and her white legs and navvy boots
were dangling in the air.

'Have you anything to remark about Noah?' enquired her father, with a
polite inclination and an ironical interest.

'No--a,' she repeated in the same blunt accents; 'I didn't snore; did I?
No--a.'

The old man smiled and shrugged a little at me--it was the smile of
disgust.

'Good night, my dear Maud;' and turning to her, he said, with a peculiar
gentle sharpness, 'Had not you better wake, my dear, and try whether your
cousin would like some supper?'

So he accompanied us to the door, outside which we found L'Amour's candle
awaiting us.

'I'm awful afraid of the Governor, I am. Did I snore that time?'

'No, dear; at least, I did not hear it,' I said, unable to repress a smile.

'Well, if I didn't, I was awful near it,' she said, reflectively.

We found poor Mary Quince dozing over the fire; but we soon had tea and
other good things, of which Milly partook with a wonderful appetite.

'I _was_ in a qualm about it,' said Milly, who by this time was quite
herself again. 'When he spies me a-napping, maybe he don't fetch me a prod
with his pencil-case over the head. Odd! girl, it _is_ sore.'

When I contrasted the refined and fluent old gentleman whom I had just
left, with this amazing specimen of young ladyhood, I grew sceptical almost
as to the possibility of her being his child.

I was to learn, however, how little she had, I won't say of his society,
but even of his presence--that she had no domestic companion of the least
pretensions to education--that she ran wild about the place--never, except
in church, so much as saw a person of that rank to which she was born--and
that the little she knew of reading and writing had been picked up, in
desultory half-hours, from a person who did not care a pin about her
manners or decorum, and perhaps rather enjoyed her grotesqueness--and that
no one who was willing to take the least trouble about her was competent
to make her a particle more refined than I saw her--the wonder ceased. We
don't know how little is heritable, and how much simply training, until we
encounter some-such spectacle as that of my poor cousin Milly.

When I lay down in my bed and reviewed the day, it seemed like a month of
wonders. Uncle Silas was always before me; the voice so silvery for an old
man--so preternaturally soft; the manners so sweet, so gentle; the aspect,
smiling, suffering, spectral. It was no longer a shadow; I had now seen
him in the flesh. But, after all, was he more than a shadow to me? When I
closed my eyes I saw him before me still, in necromantic black, ashy with a
pallor on which I looked with fear and pain, a face so dazzlingly pale,
and those hollow, fiery, awful eyes! It sometimes seemed as if the curtain
opened, and I had seen a ghost.

I had seen him; but he was still an enigma and a marvel. The living face
did not expound the past, any more than the portrait portended the future.
He was still a mystery and a vision; and thinking of these things I fell
asleep.

Mary Quince, who slept in the dressing-room, the door of which was close
to my bed, and lay open to secure me against ghosts, called me up; and the
moment I knew where I was I jumped up, and peeped eagerly from the window.
It commanded the avenue and court-yard; but we were many windows removed
from that over the hall-door, and immediately beneath ours lay the two
giant lime trees, prostrate and uprooted, which I had observed as we drove
up the night before.

I saw more clearly in the bright light of morning the signs of neglect and
almost of dilapidation which had struck me as I approached. The court-yard
was tufted over with grass, seldom from year to year crushed by the
carriage-wheels, or trodden by the feet of visitors. This melancholy
verdure thickened where the area was more remote from the centre; and under
the windows, and skirting the walls to the left, was reinforced by a thick
grove of nettles. The avenue was all grass-grown, except in the very
centre, where a narrow track still showed the roadway The handsome carved
balustrade of the court-yard was discoloured with lichens, and in two
places gapped and broken; and the air of decay was heightened by the fallen
trees, among whose sprays and yellow leaves the small birds were hopping.

Before my toilet was completed, in marched my cousin Milly. We were to
breakfast alone that morning, 'and so much the better,' she told me.
Sometimes the Governor ordered her to breakfast with him, and 'never left
off chaffing her' till his newspaper came, and 'sometimes he said such
things he made her cry,' and then he only 'boshed her more,' and packed her
away to her room; but she was by chalks nicer than him, talk as he might.
'_Was_ not she nicer? was not she? was not she?' Upon this point she was so
strong and urgent that I was obliged to reply by a protest against awarding
the palm of elegance between parent and child, and declaring I liked her
very much, which I attested by a kiss.

'I know right well which of us you do think's the nicest, and no mistake,
only you're afraid of him; and he had no business boshing me last night
before you. I knew he was at it, though I couldn't twig him altogether; but
wasn't he a sneak, now, wasn't he?'

This was a still more awkward question; so I kissed her again, and said she
must never ask me to say of my uncle in his absence anything I could not
say to his face.

At which speech she stared at me for a while, and then treated me to one of
her hearty laughs, after which she seemed happier, and gradually grew into
better humour with her father.

'Sometimes, when the curate calls, he has me up--for he's as religious as
six, he is--and they read Bible and prays, ho--don't they? You'll have
that, lass, like me, to go through; and maybe I don't hate it; oh, no!'

We breakfasted in a small room, almost a closet, off the great parlour,
which was evidently quite disused. Nothing could be homelier than our
equipage, or more shabby than the furniture of the little apartment. Still,
somehow, I liked it. It was a total change; but one likes 'roughing it' a
little at first.




CHAPTER XXXIII

_THE WINDMILL WOOD_


I had not time to explore this noble old house as my curiosity prompted;
for Milly was in such a fuss to set out for the 'blackberry dell' that I
saw little more than just so much as I necessarily traversed in making my
way to and from my room.

The actual decay of the house had been prevented by my dear father; and
the roof, windows, masonry, and carpentry had all been kept in repair.
But short of indications of actual ruin, there are many manifestations of
poverty and neglect which impress with a feeling of desolation. It was
plain that not nearly a tithe of this great house was inhabited; long
corridors and galleries stretched away in dust and silence, and were
crossed by others, whose dark arches inspired me in the distance with an
awful sort of sadness. It was plainly one of those great structures in
which you might easily lose yourself, and with a pleasing terror it
reminded me of that delightful old abbey in Mrs. Radcliffe's romance, among
whose silent staircases, dim passages, and long suites of lordly, but
forsaken chambers, begirt without by the sombre forest, the family of La
Mote secured a gloomy asylum.

My cousin Milly and I, however, were bent upon an open-air ramble, and
traversing several passages, she conducted me to a door which led us out
upon a terrace overgrown with weeds, and by a broad flight of steps we
descended to the level of the grounds beneath. Then on, over the short
grass, under the noble trees, we walked; Milly in high good-humour,
and talking away volubly, in her short garment, navvy boots, and a
weather-beaten hat. She carried a stick in her gloveless hand. Her
conversation was quite new to me, and resembled very much what I would have
fancied the holiday recollections of a schoolboy; and the language in which
it was sustained was sometimes so outlandish, that I was forced to laugh
outright--a demonstration which she plainly did not like.

Her talk was about the great jumps she had made--how she snow-balled the
chaps' in winter--how she could slide twice the length of her stick beyond
'Briddles, the cow-boy.'

With this and similar conversation she entertained me.

The grounds were delightfully wild and neglected. But we had now passed
into a vast park beautifully varied with hollows and uplands, and such
glorious old timber massed and scattered over its slopes and levels. Among
these, we got at last into a picturesque dingle; the grey rocks peeped from
among the ferns and wild flowers, and the steps of soft sward along its
sides were dark in the shadows of silver-stemmed birch, and russet thorn,
and oak, under which, in the vaporous night, the Erl-king and his daughter
might glide on their aërial horses.

In the lap of this pleasant dell were the finest blackberry bushes, I
think, I ever saw, bearing fruit quite fabulous; and plucking these, and
chatting, we rambled on very pleasantly.

I had first thought of Milly's absurdities, to which, in description, I
cannot do justice, simply because so many details have, by distance
of time, escaped my recollection. But her ways and her talk were so
indescribably grotesque that she made me again and again quiver with
suppressed laughter.

But there was a pitiable and even a melancholy meaning underlying the
burlesque.

This creature, with no more education than a dairy-maid, I gradually
discovered had fine natural aptitudes for accomplishment--a very sweet
voice, and wonderfully delicate ear, and a talent for drawing which quite
threw mine into the shade. It was really astonishing.

Poor Milly, in all her life, had never read three books, and hated to
think of them. One, over which she was wont to yawn and sigh, and stare
fatiguedly for an hour every Sunday, by command of the Governor, was a
stout volume of sermons of the earlier school of George III., and a drier
collection you can't fancy. I don't think she read anything else. But she
had, notwithstanding, ten times the cleverness of half the circulating
library misses one meets with. Besides all this, I had a long sojourn
before me at Bartram-Haugh, and I had learned from Milly, as I had heard
before, what a perennial solitude it was, with a ludicrous fear of learning
Milly's preposterous dialect, and turning at last into something like her.
So I resolved to do all I could for her--teach her whatever I knew, if she
would allow me--and gradually, if possible, effect some civilising changes
in her language, and, as they term it in boarding-schools, her demeanour.

But I must pursue at present our first day's ramble in what was called
Bartram Chase. People can't go on eating blackberries always; so after a
while we resumed our walk along this pretty dell, which gradually expanded
into a wooded valley--level beneath and enclosed by irregular uplands,
receding, as it were, in mimic bays and harbours at some points, and
running out at others into broken promontories, ending in clumps of forest
trees.

Just where the glen which we had been traversing expanded into this broad,
but wooded valley, it was traversed by a high and close paling, which,
although it looked decayed, was still very strong.

In this there was a wooden gate, rudely but strongly constructed, and at
the side we were approaching stood a girl, who was leaning against the
post, with one arm resting on the top of the gate.

This girl was neither tall nor short--taller than she looked at a distance;
she had not a slight waist; sooty black was her hair, with a broad
forehead, perpendicular but low; she had a pair of very fine, dark,
lustrous eyes, and no other good feature--unless I may so call her teeth,
which were very white and even. Her face was rather short, and swarthy as
a gipsy's; observant and sullen too; and she did not move, only eyed us
negligently from under her dark lashes as we drew near. Altogether a not
unpicturesque figure, with a dusky, red petticoat of drugget, and tattered
jacket of bottle-green stuff, with short sleeves, which showed her brown
arms from the elbow.

'That's Pegtop's daughter,' said Milly.

'Who is Pegtop?' I asked.

'He's the miller--see, yonder it is,' and she pointed to a very pretty
feature in the landscape, a windmill, crowning the summit of a hillock
which rose suddenly above the level of the treetops, like an island in the
centre of the valley.

'The mill not going to-day, Beauty?' bawled Milly.

'No--a, Beauty; it baint,' replied the girl, loweringly, and without
stirring.

'And what's gone with the stile?' demanded Milly, aghast. 'It's tore away
from the paling!'

'Well, so it be,' replied the wood nymph in the red petticoat, showing her
fine teeth with a lazy grin.

'Who's a bin and done all that?' demanded Milly.

'Not you nor me, lass,' said the girl.

''Twas old Pegtop, your father, did it,' cried Milly, in rising wrath.

''Appen it wor,' she replied.

'And the gate locked.'

'That's it--the gate locked,' she repeated, sulkily, with a defiant
side-glance at Milly.

'And where's Pegtop?'

'At t'other side, somewhere; how should I know where he be?' she replied.

'Who's got the key?'

'Here it be, lass,' she answered, striking her hand on her pocket. 'And how
durst you stay us here? Unlock it, huzzy, this minute!' cried Milly, with a
stamp.

Her answer was a sullen smile.

'Open the gate this instant!' bawled Milly.

'Well, I _won't._'

I expected that Milly would have flown into a frenzy at this direct
defiance, but she looked instead puzzled and curious--the girl's unexpected
audacity bewildered her.

'Why, you fool, I could get over the paling as soon as look at you, but I
won't. What's come over you? Open the gate, I say, or I'll make you.'

'Do let her alone, dear,' I entreated, fearing a mutual assault. 'She has
been ordered, may be, not to open it. Is it so, my good girl?'

'Well, thou'rt not the biggest fool o' the two,' she observed,
commendatively, 'thou'st hit it, lass.'

'And who ordered you?' exclaimed Milly.

'Fayther.'

'Old Pegtop. Well, _that's_ summat to laugh at, it is--our servant
a-shutting us out of our own grounds.'

'No servant o' yourn!'

'Come, lass, what do you mean?'

'He be old Silas's miller, and what's that to thee?'

With these words the girl made a spring on the hasp of the padlock, and
then got easily over the gate.

'Can't you do that, cousin?' whispered Milly to me, with an impatient
nudge. 'I _wish_ you'd try.'

'No, dear--come away, Milly,' and I began to withdraw.

'Lookee, lass, 'twill be an ill day's work for thee when I tell the
Governor,' said Milly, addressing the girl, who stood on a log of timber at
the other side, regarding us with a sullen composure.

'We'll be over in spite o' you,' cried Milly.

'You lie!' answered she.

'And why not, huzzy?' demanded my cousin, who was less incensed at the
affront than I expected. All this time I was urging Milly in vain to come
away.

'Yon lass is no wild cat, like thee--that's why,' said the sturdy portress.

'If I cross, I'll give you a knock,' said Milly.

'And I'll gi' thee another,' she answered, with a vicious wag of the head.

'Come, Milly, _I'll_ go if _you_ don't,' I said.

'But we must not be beat,' whispered she, vehemently, catching my arm; 'and
ye _shall_ get over, and _see_ what I will gi' her!'

'I'll _not_ get over.'

'Then I'll break the door, for ye _shall_ come through,' exclaimed Milly,
kicking the stout paling with her ponderous boot.

'Purr it, purr it, purr it!' cried the lass in the red petticoat with a
grin.

'Do you know who this lady is?' cried Milly, suddenly.

'She is a prettier lass than thou,' answered Beauty.

'She's _my_ cousin Maud--Miss Ruthyn of Knowl--and she's a deal richer than
the Queen; and the Governor's taking care of her; and he'll make old Pegtop
bring you to reason.'

The girl eyed me with a sulky listlessness, a little inquisitively, I
thought.

'See if he don't,' threatened Milly.

'You positively _must_ come,' I said, drawing her away with me.

'Well, shall we come in?' cried Milly, trying a last summons.

'You'll not come in that much,' she answered, surlily, measuring an
infinitesimal distance on her finger with her thumb, which she pinched
against it, the gesture ending with a snap of defiance, and a smile that
showed her fine teeth.

'I've a mind to shy a stone at you,' shouted Milly.

'Faire away; I'll shy wi' ye as long as ye like, lass; take heed o'
yerself;' and Beauty picked up a round stone as large as a cricket ball.

With difficulty I got Milly away without an exchange of missiles, and much
disgusted at my want of zeal and agility.

'Well, come along, cousin, I know an easy way by the river, when it's low,'
answered Milly. 'She's a brute--is not she?'

As we receded, we saw the girl slowly wending her way towards the old
thatched cottage, which showed its gable from the side of a little rugged
eminence embowered in spreading trees, and dangling and twirling from its
string on the end of her finger the key for which a battle had so nearly
been fought.

The stream was low enough to make our flank movement round the end of
the paling next it quite easy, and so we pursued our way, and Milly's
equanimity returned, and our ramble grew very pleasant again.

Our path lay by the river bank, and as we proceeded, the dwarf timber was
succeeded by grander trees, which crowded closer and taller, and, at last,
the scenery deepened into solemn forest, and a sudden sweep in the river
revealed the beautiful ruin of a steep old bridge, with the fragments of a
gate-house on the farther side.

'Oh, Milly darling!' I exclaimed, 'what a beautiful drawing this would
make! I should so like to make a sketch of it.'

'So it would. _Make_ a picture--_do_!--here's a stone that's pure and flat
to sit upon, and you look very tired. Do make it, and I'll sit by you.'

'Yes, Milly, I _am_ tired, a little, and I _will_ sit down; but we must
wait for another day to make the picture, for we have neither pencil
nor paper. But it is much too pretty to be lost; so let us come again
to-morrow.'

'To-morrow be hanged! you'll do it to-day, bury-me-wick, but you _shall_;
I'm wearying to see you make a picture, and I'll fetch your conundrums out
o' your drawer, for do't you shall.'




CHAPTER XXXIV

_ZAMIEL_


It was all vain my remonstrating. She vowed that by crossing the
stepping-stones close by she could, by a short cut, reach the house, and
return with my pencils and block-book in a quarter of an hour. Away then,
with many a jump and fling, scampered Milly's queer white stockings and
navvy boots across the irregular and precarious stepping-stones, over which
I dared not follow her; so I was fain to return to the stone so 'pure
and flat,' on which I sat, enjoying the grand sylvan solitude, the dark
background and the grey bridge mid-way, so tall and slim, across whose
ruins a sunbeam glimmered, and the gigantic forest trees that slumbered
round, opening here and there in dusky vistas, and breaking in front into
detached and solemn groups. It was the setting of a dream of romance.

It would have been the very spot in which to read a volume of German
folk-lore, and the darkening colonnades and silent nooks of the forest
seemed already haunted with the voices and shadows of those charming elves
and goblins.

As I sat here enjoying the solitude and my fancies among the low branches
of the wood, at my right I heard a crashing, and saw a squat broad figure
in a stained and tattered military coat, and loose short trousers, one limb
of which flapped about a wooden leg. He was forcing himself through. His
face was rugged and wrinkled, and tanned to the tint of old oak; his eyes
black, beadlike, and fierce, and a shock of sooty hair escaped from under
his battered wide-awake nearly to his shoulders. This forbidding-looking
person came stumping and jerking along toward me, whisking his stick now
and then viciously in the air, and giving his fell of hair a short shake,
like a wild bull preparing to attack.

I stood up involuntarily with a sense of fear and surprise, almost fancying
I saw in that wooden-legged old soldier, the forest demon who haunted Der
Freischütz.

So he approached shouting--

'Hollo! you--how came you here? Dost 'eer?'

And he drew near panting, and sometimes tugging angrily in his haste at his
wooden leg, which sunk now and then deeper than was convenient in the sod.
This exertion helped to anger him, and when he halted before me, his dark
face smirched with smoke and dust, and the nostrils of his flat drooping
nose expanded and quivered as he panted, like the gills of a fish; an
angrier or uglier face it would not be easy to fancy.

'Ye'll all come when ye like, will ye? and do nout but what pleases
yourselves, won't you? And who'rt thou? Dost 'eer--who _are_ ye, I say; and
what the deil seek ye in the woods here? Come, bestir thee!'

If his wide mouth and great tobacco-stained teeth, his scowl, and loud
discordant tones were intimidating, they were also extremely irritating.
The moment my spirit was roused, my courage came.

'I am Miss Ruthyn of Knowl, and Mr. Silas Ruthyn, your master, is my
uncle.'

'Hoo!' he exclaimed more gently, 'an' if Silas be thy uncle thou'lt be come
to live wi' him, and thou'rt she as come overnight--eh?'

I made no answer, but I believe I looked both angrily and disdainfully.

'And what make ye alone here? and how was I to know't, an' Milly not wi'
ye, nor no one? But Maud or no Maud, I wouldn't let the Dooke hisself set
foot inside the palin' without Silas said let him. And you may tell Silas
them's the words o' Dickon Hawkes, and I'll stick to'm--and what's more
I'll tell him _myself_--I will; I'll tell him there be no use o' my
striving and straining hee, day an' night and night and day, watchin' again
poachers, and thieves, and gipsies, and they robbing lads, if rules won't
be kep, and folk do jist as they pleases. Dang it, lass, thou'rt in luck I
didn't heave a brick at thee when I saw thee first.'

'I'll complain of you to my uncle,' I replied.

'So do, and and 'appen thou'lt find thyself in the wrong box, lass; thou
canst na' say I set the dogs arter thee, nor cau'd thee so much as a wry
name, nor heave a stone at thee--did I? Well? and where's the complaint
then?'

I simply answered, rather fiercely,

'Be good enough to leave me.'

'Well, I make no objections, mind. I'm takin' thy word--thou'rt Maud
Ruthyn--'appen thou be'st and 'appen thou baint. I'm not aweer on't, but I
takes thy word, and all I want to know's just this, did Meg open the gate
to thee?'

I made him no answer, and to my great relief I saw Milly striding and
skipping across the unequal stepping-stones.

'Hallo, Pegtop! what are you after now?' she cried, as she drew near.

'This man has been extremely impertinent. You know him, Milly?' I said.

'Why that's Pegtop Dickon. Dirty old Hawkes that never was washed. I tell
you, lad, ye'll see what the Governor thinks o't--a-ha! He'll talk to you.'

'I done or said nout--not but I _should_, and there's the fack--she can't
deny't; she hadn't a hard word from I; and I don't care the top o' that
thistle what no one says--not I. But I tell thee, Milly, I stopped _some_
o' thy pranks, and I'll stop more. Ye'll be shying no more stones at the
cattle.'

'Tell your tales, and welcome, cried Milly. 'I wish I was here when you
jawed cousin. If Winny was here she'd catch you by the timber toe and put
you on your back.'

'Ay, she'll be a good un yet if she takes arter thee,' retorted the old man
with a fierce sneer.

'Drop it, and get away wi' ye,' cried she, 'or maybe I'd call Winny to
smash your timber leg for you.'

'A-ha! there's more on't. She's a sweet un. Isn't she?' he replied
sardonically.

'You did not like it last Easter, when Winny broke it with a kick.'

''Twas a kick o' a horse,' he growled with a glance at me.

''Twas no such thing--'twas Winny did it--and he laid on his back for a
week while carpenter made him a new one.' And Milly laughed hilariously.

'I'll fool no more wi' ye, losing my time; I won't; but mind ye, I'll speak
wi' Silas.' And going away he put his hand to his crumpled wide-awake, and
said to me with a surly difference--

'Good evening, Miss Ruthyn--good evening, ma'am--and ye'll please remember,
I did not mean nout to vex thee.'

And so he swaggered away, jerking and waddling over the sward, and was soon
lost in the wood.

'It's well he's a little bit frightened--I never saw him so angry, I think;
he is awful mad.'

'Perhaps he really is not aware how very rude he is,' I suggested.

'I hate him. We were twice as pleasant with poor Tom Driver--he never
meddled with any one, and was always in liquor; Old Gin was the name he
went by. But this brute--I do hate him--he comes from Wigan, I think, and
he's always spoiling sport--and he whops Meg--that's Beauty, you know, and
I don't think she'd be half as bad only for him. Listen to him whistlin'.'

'I did hear whistling at some distance among the trees.'

'I declare if he isn't callin' the dogs! Climb up here, I tell ye,' and we
climbed up the slanting trunk of a great walnut tree, and strained our eyes
in the direction from which we expected the onset of Pegtop's vicious pack.

But it was a false alarm.

'Well, I don't think he _would_ do that, after all--_hardly_; but he is a
brute, sure!'

'And that dark girl who would not let us through, is his daughter, is she?'

'Yes, that's Meg--Beauty, I christened her, when I called him Beast; but I
call him Pegtop now, and she's Beauty still, and that's the way o't.'

'Come, sit down now, an' make your picture,' she resumed so soon as we had
dismounted from our position of security.

'I'm afraid I'm hardly in the vein. I don't think I could draw a straight
line. My hand trembles.'

'I wish you could, Maud,' said Milly, with a look so wistful and
entreating, that considering the excursion she had made for the pencils, I
could not bear to disappoint her.

'Well, Milly, we must only try; and if we fail we can't help it. Sit you
down beside me and I'll tell you why I begin with one part and not another,
and you'll see how I make trees and the river, and--yes, _that_ pencil,
it is hard and answers for the fine light lines; but we must begin at the
beginning, and learn to copy drawings before we attempt real views like
this. And if you wish it, Milly, I'm resolved to teach you everything I
know, which, after all, is not a great deal, and we shall have such fun
making sketches of the same landscapes, and then comparing.'

And so on, Milly, quite delighted, and longing to begin her course of
instruction, sat down beside me in a rapture, and hugged and kissed me so
heartily that we were very near rolling together off the stone on which we
were seated. Her boisterous delight and good-nature helped to restore me,
and both laughing heartily together, I commenced my task.

'Dear me! who's that?' I exclaimed suddenly, as looking up from my
block-book I saw the figure of a slight man in the careless morning-dress
of a gentleman, crossing the ruinous bridge in our direction, with
considerable caution, upon the precarious footing of the battlement, which
alone offered an unbroken passage.

This was a day of apparitions! Milly recognised him instantly. The
gentleman was Mr. Carysbroke. He had taken The Grange only for a year. He
lived quite to himself, and was very good to the poor, and was the only
gentleman, for ever so long, who had visited at Bartram, and oddly enough
nowhere else. But he wanted leave to cross through the grounds, and having
obtained it, had repeated his visit, partly induced, no doubt, by the
fact that Bartram boasted no hospitalities, and that there was no risk of
meeting the county folk there.

With a stout walking-stick in his hand, and a short shooting-coat, and a
wide-awake hat in much better trim than Zamiel's, he emerged from the copse
that covered the bridge, walking at a quick but easy pace.

'He'll be goin' to see old Snoddles, I guess,' said Milly, looking a little
frightened and curious; for Milly, I need not say, was a bumpkin, and stood
in awe of this gentleman's good-breeding, though she was as brave as a
lion, and would have fought the Philistines at any odds, with the jawbone
of an ass.

''Appen he won't see us,' whispered Milly, hopefully.

But he did, and raising his hat, with a cheerful smile, that showed very
white teeth, he paused.

'Charming day, Miss Ruthyn.'

I raised my head suddenly as he spoke, from habit appropriating the
address; it was so marked that he raised his hat respectfully to me, and
then continued to Milly--

'Mr. Ruthyn, I hope, quite well? but I need hardly ask, you seem so happy.
Will you kindly tell him, that I expect the book I mentioned in a day or
two, and when it comes I'll either send or bring it to him immediately?'

Milly and I were standing, by this time, but she only stared at him,
tongue-tied, her cheeks rather flushed, and her eyes very round, and to
facilitate the dialogue, as I suppose, he said again--

'He's quite well, I hope?'

Still no response from Milly, and I, provoked, though myself a little shy,
made answer--

'My uncle, Mr. Ruthyn, is very well, thank you,' and I felt that I blushed
as I spoke.

'Ah, pray excuse me, may I take a great liberty? you are Miss Ruthyn,
of Knowl? Will you think me very impertinent--I'm afraid you will--if I
venture to introduce myself? My name is Carysbroke, and I had the honour of
knowing poor Mr. Ruthyn when I was quite a little boy, and he has shown a
kindness for me since, and I hope you will pardon the liberty I fear I've
taken. I think my friend, Lady Knollys, too, is a relation of yours; what a
charming person she is!'

'Oh, is not she? such a darling!' I said, and then blushed at my outspoken
affection.

But he smiled kindly, as if he liked me for it; and he said--

'You know whatever I think, I dare not quite say that; but frankly I can
quite understand it. She preserves her youth so wonderfully, and her fun
and her good-nature are so entirely girlish. What a sweet view you have
selected,' he continued, changing all at once. 'I've stood just at
this point so often to look back at that exquisite old bridge. Do you
observe--you're an artist, I see--something very peculiar in that tint of
the grey, with those odd cross stains of faded red and yellow?'

'I do, indeed; I was just remarking the peculiar beauty of the
colouring--was not I, Milly?'

Milly stared at me, and uttered an alarmed 'Yes,' and looked as if she had
been caught in a robbery.

'Yes, and you have so very peculiar a background,' he resumed. 'It was
better before the storm though; but it is very good still.'

Then a little pause, and 'Do you know this country at all?' rather
suddenly.

'No, not in the least--that is, I've only had the drive to this place; but
what I did see interested me very much.'

'You will be charmed with it when you know it better--the very place for an
artist. I'm a wretched scribbler myself, and I carry this little book in
my pocket,' and he laughed deprecatingly while he drew forth a thin
fishing-book, as it looked. 'They are mere memoranda, you see. I walk so
much and come unexpectedly on such pretty nooks and studies, I just try
to make a note of them, but it is really more writing than sketching; my
sister says it is a cipher which nobody but myself understands. However,
I'll try and explain just two--because you really ought to go and see the
places. Oh, no; not that,' he laughed, as accidentally the page blew over,
'that's the Cat and Fiddle, a curious little pot-house, where they gave me
some very good ale one day.'

Milly at this exhibited some uneasy tokens of being about to speak, but not
knowing what might be coming, I hastened to observe on the spirited little
sketches to which he meant to draw my attention.

'I want to show you only the places within easy reach--a short ride or
drive.'

So he proceeded to turn over two or three, in addition to the two he had
at first proposed, and then another; then a little sketch just tinted, and
really quite a charming little gem, of Cousin Monica's pretty gabled old
house; and every subject had its little criticism, or its narrative, or
adventure.

As he was about returning this little sketch-book to his pocket, still
chatting to me, he suddenly recollected poor Milly, who was looking rather
lowering; but she brightened a good deal as he presented it to her, with a
little speech which she palpably misunderstood, for she made one of her odd
courtesies, and was about, I thought, to put it into her large pocket, and
accept it as a present.

'Look at the drawings, Milly, and then return it,' I whispered.

At his request I allowed him to look at my unfinished sketch of the bridge,
and while he was measuring distances and proportions with his eye, Milly
whispered rather angrily to me.

'And why should I?'

'Because he wants it back, and only meant to lend it to you,' whispered I.

'_Lend_ it to me--and after you! Bury-me-wick if I look at a leaf of it,'
she retorted in high dudgeon. 'Take it, lass; give it him yourself--I'll
not,' and she popped it into my hand, and made a sulky step back.

'My cousin is very much obliged,' I said, returning the book, and smiling
for her, and he took it smiling also and said--

'I think if I had known how very well you draw, Miss Ruthyn, I should have
hesitated about showing you my poor scrawls. But these are not my best, you
know; Lady Knollys will tell you that I can really do better--a great deal
better, I think.'

And then with more apologies for what he called his impertinence, he took
his leave, and I felt altogether very much pleased and flattered.

He could not be more than twenty-nine or thirty, I thought, and he was
decidedly handsome--that is, his eyes and teeth, and clear brown complexion
were--and there was something distinguished and graceful in his figure
and gesture; and altogether there was the indescribable attraction of
intelligence; and I fancied--though this, of course, was a secret--that
from the moment he spoke to us he felt an interest in me. I am not going to
be vain. It was a _grave_ interest, but still an interest, for I could see
him studying my features while I was turning over his sketches, and he
thought I saw nothing else. It was flattering, too, his anxiety that
I should think well of his drawing, and referring me to Lady Knollys.
Carysbroke--had I ever heard my dear father mention that name? I could not
recollect it. But then he was habitually so silent, that his not doing so
argued nothing.




CHAPTER XXXV

_WE VISIT A ROOM IN THE SECOND STOREY_


Mr. Carysbroke amused my fancy sufficiently to prevent my observing Milly's
silence, till we had begun our return homeward.

'The Grange must be a pretty house, if that little sketch be true; is it
far from this?'

''Twill be two mile.'

'Are you vexed, Milly?' I asked, for both her tone and looks were angry.

'Yes, I am vexed; and why not lass?'

'What has happened?'

'Well, now, that is rich! Why, look at that fellow, Carysbroke: he took no
more notice to me than a dog, and kep' talking to you all the time of his
pictures, and his walks, and his people. Why, a pig's better manners than
that.'

'But, Milly dear, you forget, he tried to talk to you, and you would not
answer him,' I expostulated.

'And is not that just what I say--I can't talk like other folk--ladies, I
mean. Every one laughs at me; an' I'm dressed like a show, I am. It's a
shame! I saw Polly Shives--what a lady she is, my eyes!--laughing at me in
church last Sunday. I was minded to give her a bit of my mind. An' I know
I'm queer. It's a shame, it is. Why should _I_ be so rum? it is a shame! I
don't want to be so, nor it isn't my fault.'

And poor Milly broke into a flood of tears, and stamped on the ground, and
buried her face in her short frock, which she whisked up to her eyes; and
an odder figure of grief I never beheld.

'And I could not make head or tail of what he was saying,' cried poor Milly
through her buff cotton, with a stamp; 'and you twigged every word o't. An'
why am I so? It's a shame--a shame! Oh, ho, ho! it's a shame!'

'But, my dear Milly, we were talking of _drawing_, and you have not learned
yet, but you shall--I'll teach you; and then you'll understand all about
it.'

'An' every one laughs at me--even you; though you try, Maud, you can scarce
keep from laughing sometimes. I don't blame you, for I know I'm queer; but
I can't help it; and it's a shame.'

'Well, my dear Milly, listen to me: if you allow me, I assure you, I'll
teach you all the music and drawing I know. You have lived very much
alone; and, as you say, ladies have a way of speaking of their own that is
different from the talk of other people.'

'Yes, that they have, an' gentlemen too--like the Governor, and that
Carysbroke; and a precious lingo it is--dang it--why, the devil himself
could not understand it; an' I'm like a fool among you. I could 'most drown
myself. It's a shame! It is--you know it is.--It's a shame!'

'But I'll teach you that lingo too, if you wish it, Milly; and you shall
know everything that I know; and I'll manage to have your dresses better
made.'

By this time she was looking very ruefully, but attentively, in my face,
her round eyes and nose swelled, and her cheeks all wet.

'I think if they were a little longer--yours is longer, you know;' and the
sentence was interrupted by a sob.

'Now, Milly, you must not be crying; if you choose you may be just as the
same as any other lady--and you shall; and you will be very much admired, I
can tell you, if only you will take the trouble to quite unlearn all your
odd words and ways, and dress yourself like other people; and I will take
care of that if you let me; and I think you are very clever, Milly; and I
know you are very pretty.'

Poor Milly's blubbered face expanded into a smile in spite of herself; but
she shook her head, looking down.

'Noa, noa, Maud, I fear 'twon't be.' And indeed it seemed I had proposed to
myself a labour of Hercules.

But Milly was really a clever creature, could see quickly, and when her
ungainly dialect was mastered, describe very pleasantly; and if only she
would endure the restraint and possessed the industry requisite, I did not
despair, and was resolved at least to do my part.

Poor Milly! she was really very grateful, and entered into the project of
her education with great zeal, and with a strange mixture of humility and
insubordination.

Milly was in favour of again attacking 'Beauty's' position on her return,
and forcing a passage from this side; but I insisted on following the route
by which we had arrived, and so we got round the paling by the river, and
were treated to a provoking grin of defiance by 'Beauty,' who was talking
across the gate to a slim young man, arrayed in fustian, and with an
odd-looking cap of rabbit-skin on his head, which, on seeing us, he pulled
sheepishly to the side of his face next to us, as he lounged, with his arm
under his chin, on the top bar of the gate.

After our encounter of to-day, indeed, it was Miss 'Beauty's' wont to
exhibit a kind of jeering disdain in her countenance whenever we passed.

I think Milly would have engaged her again, had I not reminded her of her
undertaking, and exerted my new authority.

'Look at that sneak, Pegtop, there, going up the path to the mill. He makes
belief now he does not see us; but he does, though, only he's afraid we'll
tell the Governor, and he thinks Governor won't give him his way with you.
I hate that Pegtop: he stopped me o' riding the cows a year ago, he did.'

I thought Pegtop might have done worse. Indeed it was plain that a total
reformation was needed here; and I was glad to find that poor Milly seemed
herself conscious of it; and that her resolution to become more like other
people of her station was not a mere spasm of mortification and jealousy,
but a genuine and very zealous resolve.

I had not half seen this old house of Bartram-Haugh yet. At first, indeed,
I had but an imperfect idea of its extent. There was a range of rooms along
one side of the great gallery, with closed window-shutters, and the doors
generally locked. Old L'Amour grew cross when we went into them, although
we could see nothing; and Milly was afraid to open the windows--not that
any Bluebeard revelations were apprehended, but simply because she knew
that Uncle Silas's order was that things should be left undisturbed; and
this boisterous spirit stood in awe of him to a degree which his gentle
manners and apparent quietude rendered quite surprising.

There were in this house, what certainly did not exist at Knowl, and what
I have never observed, thought they may possibly be found in other old
houses--I mean, here and there, very high hatches, which we could only
peep over by jumping in the air. They crossed the long corridors and great
galleries; and several of them were turned across and locked, so as to
intercept the passage, and interrupt our explorations.

Milly, however, knew a queer little, very steep and dark back stair, which
reached the upper floor; so she and I mounted, and made a long ramble
through rooms much lower and ruder in finish than the lordly chambers we
had left below. These commanded various views of the beautiful though
neglected grounds; but on crossing a gallery we entered suddenly a chamber,
which looked into a small and dismal quadrangle, formed by the inner walls
of this great house, and of course designed only by the architect to afford
the needful light and air to portions of the structure.

I rubbed the window-pane with my handkerchief and looked out. The
surrounding roof was steep and high. The walls looked soiled and dark. The
windows lined with dust and dirt, and the window-stones were in places
tufted with moss, and grass, and groundsel. An arched doorway had opened
from the house into this darkened square, but it was soiled and dusty; and
the damp weeds that overgrew the quadrangle drooped undisturbed against it.
It was plain that human footsteps tracked it little, and I gazed into that
blind and sinister area with a strange thrill and sinking.

'This is the second floor--there is the enclosed court-yard'--I, as it
were, soliloquised.

'What are you afraid of, Maud? you look as ye'd seen a ghost,' exclaimed
Milly, who came to the window and peeped over my shoulder.

'It reminded me suddenly, Milly, of that frightful business.'

'What business, Maud?--what a plague are ye thinking on?' demanded Milly,
rather amused.

'It was in one of these rooms--maybe this--yes, it certainly _was_
this--for see, the panelling has been pulled off the wall--that Mr. Charke
killed himself.'

I was staring ruefully round the dim chamber, in whose corners the shadows
of night were already gathering.

'Charke!--what about him?--who's Charke?' asked Milly.

'Why, you must have heard of him,' said I.

'Not as I'm aware on,' answered she. 'And he killed himself, did he, hanged
himself, eh, or blowed his brains out?'

'He cut his throat in one of these rooms--_this_ one, I'm sure--for your
papa had the wainscoting stripped from the wall to ascertain whether there
was any second door through which a murderer could have come; and you see
these walls are stripped, and bear the marks of the woodwork that has been
removed,' I answered.

'Well, that _was_ awful! I don't know how they have pluck to cut their
throats; if I was doing it, I'd like best to put a pistol to my head and
fire, like the young gentleman did, they say, in Deadman's Hollow. But the
fellows that cut their throats, they must be awful game lads, I'm thinkin',
for it's a long slice, you know.'

'Don't, don't, Milly dear. Suppose we come away,' I said, for the evening
was deepening rapidly into night.

'Hey and bury-me-wick, but here's the blood; don't you see a big black
cloud all spread over the floor hereabout, don't ye see?' Milly was
stooping over the spot, and tracing the outline of this, perhaps, imaginary
mapping, in the air with her finger.

'No, Milly, you could not see it: the floor is too dark, and it's all in
shadow. It must be fancy; and perhaps, after all, this is not the room.'

'Well--I think, I'm _sure_ it _is_. Stand--just look.'

'We'll come in the morning, and if you are right we can see it better then.
Come away,' I said, growing frightened.

And just as we stood up to depart, the white high-cauled cap and large
sallow features of old L'Amour peeped in at the door.

'Lawk! what brings you here?' cried Milly, nearly as much startled as I at
the intrusion.

'What brings _you_ here, miss?' whistled L'Amour through her gums.

'We're looking where Charke cut his throat,' replied Milly.

'Charke the devil!' said the old woman, with an odd mixture of scorn and
fury. ''Tisn't his room; and come ye out of it, please. Master won't like
when he hears how you keep pulling Miss Maud from one room to another, all
through the house, up and down.'

She was gabbling sternly enough, but dropped a low courtesy as I passed
her, and with a peaked and nodding stare round the room, the old woman
clapped the door sharply, and locked it.

'And who has been a talking about Charke--a pack o lies, I warrant. I
s'pose you want to frighten Miss Maud here' (another crippled courtesy)
'wi' ghosts and like nonsense.'

'You're out there: 'twas she told me; and much about it. Ghosts, indeed!
I don't vally them, not I; if I did, I know who'd frighten me,' and Milly
laughed.

The old woman stuffed the key in her pocket, and her wrinkled mouth pouted
and receded with a grim uneasiness.

'A harmless brat, and kind she is; but wild--wild--she will be wild.'

So whispered L'Amour in my ear, during the silence that followed, nodding
shakily toward Milly over the banister, and she courtesied again as we
departed, and shuffled off toward Uncle Silas's room.

The Governor is queerish this evening,' said Milly, when we were seated at
our tea. 'You never saw him queerish, did you?'

'You must say what you mean, more plainly, Milly. You don't mean ill, I
hope?'

'Well! I don't know what it is; but he does grow very queer
sometimes--you'd think he was dead a'most, maybe two or three days and
nights together. He sits all the time like an old woman in a swound. Well,
well, it is awful!'

'Is he insensible when in that state?' I asked, a good deal alarmed.

'I don't know; but it never signifies anything. It won't kill him, I do
believe; but old L'Amour knows all about it. I hardly ever go into the room
when he's so, only when I'm sent for; and he sometimes wakes up and takes a
fancy to call for this one or that. One day he sent for Pegtop all the way
to the mill; and when he came, he only stared at him for a minute or two,
and ordered him out o' the room. He's like a child a'most, when he's in one
o' them dazes.'

I always knew when Uncle Silas was 'queerish,' by the injunctions of old
L'Amour, whistled and spluttered over the banister as we came up-stairs,
to mind how we made a noise passing master's door; and by the sound of
mysterious to-ings and fro-ings about his room.

I saw very little of him. He sometimes took a whim to have us breakfast
with him, which lasted perhaps for a week; and then the order of our living
would relapse into its old routine.

I must not forget two kind letters from Lady Knollys, who was detained
away, and delighted to hear that I enjoyed my quiet life; and promised to
apply, in person, to Uncle Silas, for permission to visit me.

She was to be for the Christmas at Elverston, and that was only six miles
away from Bartram-Haugh, so I had the excitement of a pleasant look
forward.

She also said that she would include poor Milly in her invitation; and a
vision of Captain Oakley rose before me, with his handsome gaze turned in
wonder on poor Milly, for whom I had begun to feel myself responsible.




CHAPTER XXXVI

_AN ARRIVAL AT DEAD OF NIGHT_


I have sometimes been asked why I wear an odd little turquois ring--which
to the uninstructed eye appears quite valueless and altogether an unworthy
companion of those jewels which flash insultingly beside it. It is a little
keepsake, of which I became possessed about this time.

'Come, lass, what name shall I give you?' cried Milly, one morning,
bursting into my room in a state of alarming hilarity.

'My own, Milly.'

'No, but you must have a nickname, like every one else.'

'Don't mind it, Milly.'

'Yes, but I will. Shall I call you Mrs. Bustle?'

'You shall do no such thing.'

'But you must have a name.'

'I refuse a name.'

'But I'll give you one, lass.'

'And _I_ won't have it.'

'But you can't help me christening you.'

'I can decline answering.'

'But I'll make you,' said Milly, growing very red.

Perhaps there was something provoking in my tone, for I certainly was very
much disgusted at Milly's relapse into barbarism.

'You can't,' I retorted quietly.

'See if I don't, and I'll give ye one twice as ugly.'

I smiled, I fear, disdainfully.

'And I think you're a minx, and a slut, and a fool,' she broke out,
flushing scarlet.

I smiled in the same unchristian way.

'And I'd give ye a smack o' the cheek as soon as look at you.'

And she gave her dress a great slap, and drew near me, in her wrath. I
really thought she was about tendering the ordeal of single combat.

I made her, however, a paralysing courtesy, and, with immense dignity,
sailed out of the room, and into Uncle Silas's study, where it happened we
were to breakfast that morning, and for several subsequent ones.

During the meal we maintained the most dignified reserve; and I don't think
either so much as looked at the other.

We had no walk together that day.

I was sitting in the evening, quite alone, when Milly entered the room. Her
eyes were red, and she looked very sullen.

'I want your hand, cousin,' she said, at the same time taking it by the
wrist, and administering with it a sudden slap on her plump cheek, which
made the room ring, and my fingers tingle; and before I had recovered from
my surprise, she had vanished.

I called after her, but no answer; I pursued, but she was running too; and
I quite lost her at the cross galleries.

I did not see her at tea, nor before going to bed; but after I had fallen
asleep I was awakened by Milly, in floods of tears.

'Cousin Maud, will ye forgi' me--you'll never like me again, will ye? No--I
know ye won't--I'm such a brute--I hate it--it's a shame. And here's a
Banbury cake for you--I sent to the town for it, and some taffy--won't ye
eat it? and here's a little ring--'tisn't as pretty as your own rings; and
ye'll wear it, maybe, for my sake--poor Milly's sake, before I was so bad
to ye--if ye forgi' me; and I'll look at breakfast, and if it's on your
finger I'll know you're friends wi' me again; and if ye don't, I won't
trouble you no more; and I think I'll just drown myself out o' the way, and
you'll never see wicked Milly no more.'

And without waiting a moment, leaving me only half awake, and with the
sensations of dreaming, she scampered from the room, in her bare feet, with
a petticoat about her shoulders.

She had left her candle by my bed, and her little offerings on the coverlet
by me. If I had stood an atom less in terror of goblins than I did, I
should have followed her, but I was afraid. I stood in my bare feet at my
bedside, and kissed the poor little ring and put it on my finger, where it
has remained ever since and always shall. And when I lay down, longing for
morning, the image of her pale, imploring, penitential face was before me
for hours; and I repented bitterly of my cool provoking ways, and thought
myself, I dare say justly, a thousand times more to blame than Milly.

I searched in vain for her before breakfast. At that meal, however, we met,
but in the presence of Uncle Silas, who, though silent and apathetic, was
formidable; and we, sitting at a table disproportionably large, under the
cold, strange gaze of my guardian, talked only what was inevitable, and
that in low tones; for whenever Milly for a moment raised her voice, Uncle
Silas would wince, place his thin white fingers quickly over his ear, and
look as if a pain had pierced his brain, and then shrug and smile piteously
into vacancy. When Uncle Silas, therefore, was not in the talking vein
himself--and that was not often--you may suppose there was very little
spoken in his presence.

When Milly, across the table, saw the ring upon my finger, she, drawing
in her breath, said, 'Oh!' and, with round eyes and mouth, she looked so
delighted; and she made a little motion, as if she was on the point of
jumping up; and then her poor face quivered, and she bit her lip; and
staring imploringly at me, her eyes filled fast with tears, which rolled
down her round penitential cheeks.

I am sure I felt more penitent than she. I know I was crying and smiling,
and longing to kiss her. I suppose we were very absurd; but it is well that
small matters can stir the affections so profoundly at a time of life when
great troubles seldom approach us.

When at length the opportunity did come, never was such a hug out of the
wrestling ring as poor Milly bestowed on me, swaying me this way and that,
and burying her face in my dress, and blubbering--

'I was so lonely before you came, and you so good to me, and I such a
devil; and I'll never call you a name, but Maud--my darling Maud.'

'You must, Milly--Mrs. Bustle. I'll be Mrs. Bustle, or anything you like.
You must.' I was blubbering like Milly, and hugging my best; and, indeed, I
wonder how we kept our feet.

So Milly and I were better friends than ever.

Meanwhile, the winter deepened, and we had short days and long nights,
and long fireside gossipings at Bartram-Haugh. I was frightened at the
frequency of the strange collapses to which Uncle Silas was subject. I
did not at first mind them much, for I naturally fell into Milly's way of
talking about them.

But one day, while in one of his 'queerish' states, he called for me, and I
saw him, and was unspeakably scared.

In a white wrapper, he lay coiled in a great easy chair. I should have
thought him dead, had I not been accompanied by old L'Amour, who knew every
gradation and symptom of these strange affections.

She winked and nodded to me with a ghastly significance, and whispered--

'Don't make no noise, miss, till he talks; he'll come to for a bit, anon.'

Except that there was no sign of convulsions, the countenance was like that
of an epileptic arrested in one of his contortions.

There was a frown and smirk like that of idiotcy, and a strip of white
eyeball was also disclosed.

Suddenly, with a kind of chilly shudder, he opened his eyes wide, and
screwed his lips together, and blinked and stared on me with a fatuised
uncertainty, that gradually broke into a feeble smile.

'Ah! the girl--Austin's child. Well, dear, I'm hardly able--I'll speak
to-morrow--next day--it is tic--neuralgia, or something--_torture_--tell
her.'

So, huddling himself together, he lay again in his great chair, with the
same inexpressible helplessness in his attitude, and gradually his face
resumed its dreadful cast.

'Come away, miss: he's changed his mind; he'll not be fit to talk to you
noways all day, maybe,' said the old woman, again in a whisper.

So forth we stole from the room, I unspeakably shocked. In fact, he looked
as if he were dying, and so, in my agitation, I told the crone, who,
forgetting the ceremony with which she usually treated me, chuckled out
derisively,

'A-dying is he? Well, he be like Saint Paul--he's bin a-dying daily this
many a day.'

I looked at her with a chill of horror. She did not care, I suppose, what
sort of feelings she might excite, for she went on mumbling sarcastically
to herself. I had paused, and overcame my reluctance to speak to her again,
for I was really very much frightened. 'Do you think he is in danger? Shall
we send for a doctor?' I whispered.

'Law bless ye, the doctor knows all about it, miss.' The old woman's face
had a gleam of that derision which is so shocking in the features of
feebleness and age.

'But it is a _fit_, it is paralytic, or something horrible--it can't be
_safe_ to leave him to chance or nature to get through these terrible
attacks.'

'There's no fear of him, 'tisn't no fits at all, he's nout the worse o't.
Jest silly a bit now and again. It's been the same a dozen year and more;
and the doctor knows all about it,' answered the old woman sturdily. 'And
ye'll find he'll be as mad as bedlam if ye make any stir about it.'

That night I talked the matter over with Mary Quince.

'They're very dark, miss; but I think he takes a deal too much laudlum,'
said Mary.

To this hour I cannot say what was the nature of those periodical seizures.
I have often spoken to medical men about them, since, but never could learn
that excessive use of opium could altogether account for them. It was,
I believe, certain, however, that he did use that drug in startling
quantities. It was, indeed, sometimes a topic of complaint with him that
his neuralgia imposed this sad necessity upon him.

The image of Uncle Silas, as I had seen him that day, troubled and
affrighted my imagination, as I lay in my bed; I had slept very well since
my arrival at Bartram. So much of the day was passed in the open air, and
in active exercise, that this was but natural. But that night I was nervous
and wakeful, and it was past two o'clock when I fancied I heard the sound
of horses and carriage-wheels on the avenue.

Mary Quince was close by, and therefore I was not afraid to get up and peep
from the window. My heart beat fast as I saw a post-chaise approach the
court-yard. A front window was let down, and the postilion pulled up for a
few seconds.

In consequence of some directions received by him, I fancied he resumed his
route at a walk, and so drew up at the hall-door, on the steps of which a
figure awaited his arrival. I think it was old L'Amour, but I could not be
quite certain. There was a lantern on the top of the balustrade, close by
the door. The chaise-lamps were lighted, for the night was rather dark. A
bag and valise, as well as I could see, were pulled from the interior by
the post-boy, and a box from the top of the vehicle, and these were carried
into the hall.

I was obliged to keep my cheek against the window-pane to command a view
of the point of debarkation, and my breath upon the glass, which dimmed it
again almost as fast as I wiped it away, helped to obscure my vision. But
I saw a tall figure, in a cloak, get down and swiftly enter the house, but
whether male or female I could not discern.

My heart beat fast. I jumped at once to a conclusion. My uncle was
worse--was, in fact, dying; and this was the physician, too late summoned
to his bedside.

I listened for the ascent of the doctor, and his entrance at my uncle's
door, which, in the stillness of the night, I thought I might easily hear,
but no sound reached me. I listened so for fully five minutes, but
without result. I returned to the window, but the carriage and horses had
disappeared.

I was strongly tempted to wake Mary Quince, and take counsel with her, and
persuade her to undertake a reconnoissance. The fact is, I was persuaded
that my uncle was in extremity, and I was quite wild to know the doctor's
opinion. But, after all, it would be cruel to summon the good soul from her
refreshing nap. So, as I began to feel very cold, I returned to my bed,
where I continued to listen and conjecture until I fell asleep.

In the morning, as was usual, before I was dressed, in came Milly.

'How is Uncle Silas?' I eagerly enquired.

'Old L'Amour says he's queerish still; but he's not so dull as yesterday,'
answered she.

'Was not the doctor sent for?' I asked.

'Was he? Well, that's odd; and she said never a word o't to me,' answered
she.

'I'm asking only,' said I.

'I don't know whether he came or no,' she replied; 'but what makes you take
that in your head?'

'A chaise arrived here between two and three o'clock last night.'

'Hey! and who told you?' Milly seemed all on a sudden highly interested.

'I saw it, Milly; and some one, I fancy the doctor, came from it into the
house.'

'Fudge, lass! who'd send for the doctor? 'Twasn't he, I tell you. What was
he like?' said Milly.

'I could only see clearly that he, or _she_, was tall, and wore a cloak,' I
replied.

'Then 'twasn't him nor t'other I was thinking on, neither; and I'll be
hanged but I think it will be Cormoran,' cried Milly, with a thoughtful rap
with her knuckle on the table.

Precisely at this juncture a tapping came to the door.

'Come in,' said I.

And old L'Amour entered the room, with a courtesy.

'I came to tell Miss Quince her breakfast's ready,' said the old lady.

'Who came in the chaise, L'Amour?' demanded Milly.

'What chaise?' spluttered the beldame tartly.

'The chaise that came last night, past two o'clock,' said Milly.

'That's a lie, and a damn lie!' cried the beldame. 'There worn't no chaise
at the door since Miss Maud there come from Knowl.'

I stared at the audacious old menial who could utter such language.

'Yes, there was a chaise, and Cormoran, as I think, be come in it,' said
Milly, who seemed accustomed to L'Amour's daring address.

'And there's another damn lie, as big as the t'other,' said the crone, her
haggard and withered face flushing orange all over.

'I beg you will not use such language in my room,' I replied, very angrily.
'I saw the chaise at the door; your untruth signifies very little, but
your impertinence here I will not permit. Should it be repeated, I will
assuredly complain to my uncle.'

The old woman flushed more fiercely as I spoke, and fixed her bleared glare
on me, with a compression of her mouth that amounted to a wicked grimace.
She resisted her angry impulse, however, and only chuckled a little
spitefully, saying,

'No offence, miss: it be a way we has in Derbyshire o' speaking our minds.
No offence, miss, were meant, and none took, as I hopes,' and she made me
another courtesy. 'And I forgot to tell you, Miss Milly, the master wants
you this minute.'

So Milly, in mute haste, withdrew, followed closely by L'Amour.




CHAPTER XXXVII

_DOCTOR BRYERLY EMERGES_


When Milly joined me at breakfast, her eyes were red and swollen. She was
still sniffing with that little sobbing hiccough, which betrays, even were
there no other signs, recent violent weeping. She sat down quite silent.

'Is he worse, Milly?' I enquired, anxiously.

'No, nothing's wrong wi' him; he's right well,' said Milly, fiercely.

'What's the matter then, Milly dear?'

'The poisonous old witch! 'Twas just to tell the Gov'nor how I'd said 'twas
Cormoran that came by the po'shay last night.'

'And who is Cormoran?' I enquired.

'Ay, there it is; I'd like to tell, and you want to hear--and I just
daren't, for he'll send me off right to a French school--hang it--hang them
all!--if I do.'

'And why should Uncle Silas care?' said I, a good deal surprised.

'They're a-tellin' lies.'

'Who?' said I.

'L'Amour--that's who. So soon as she made her complaint of me, the Gov'nor
asked her, sharp enough, did anyone come last night, or a po'shay; and she
was ready to swear there was no one. Are ye quite sure, Maud, you really
did see aught, or 'appen 'twas all a dream?'

'It was no dream, Milly; so sure as you are there, I saw exactly what I
told you,' I replied.

'Gov'nor won't believe it anyhow; and he's right mad wi' me; and he
threatens me he'll have me off to France; I wish 'twas under the sea. I
hate France--I do--like the devil. Don't you? They're always a-threatening
me wi' France, if I dare say a word more about the po'shay, or--or anyone.'

I really was curious about Cormoran; but Cormoran was not to be defined
to me by Milly; nor did she, in reality, know more than I respecting the
arrival of the night before.

One day I was surprised to see Doctor Bryerly on the stairs. I was standing
in a dark gallery as he walked across the floor of the lobby to my uncle's
door, his hat on, and some papers in his hand.

He did not see me; and when he had entered Uncle Silas's door, I went down
and found Milly awaiting me in the hall.

'So Doctor Bryerly is here,' I said.

'That's the thin fellow, wi' the sharp look, and the shiny black coat, that
went up just now?' asked Milly.

'Yes, he's gone into your papa's room,' said I.

''Appen 'twas he come 'tother night. He may be staying here, though we see
him seldom, for it's a barrack of a house--it is.'

The same thought had struck me for a moment, but was dismissed immediately.
It certainly was _not_ Doctor Bryerly's figure which I had seen.

So, without any new light gathered from this apparition, we went on our
way, and made our little sketch of the ruined bridge. We found the gate
locked as before; and, as Milly could not persuade me to climb it, we got
round the paling by the river's bank.

While at our drawing, we saw the swarthy face, sooty locks, and old
weather-stained red coat of Zamiel, who was glowering malignly at us
from among the trunks of the forest trees, and standing motionless as a
monumental figure in the side aisle of a cathedral. When we looked again he
was gone.

Although it was a fine mild day for the wintry season, we yet, cloaked as
we were, could not pursue so still an occupation as sketching for more than
ten or fifteen minutes. As we returned, in passing a clump of trees, we
heard a sudden outbreak of voices, angry and expostulatory; and saw, under
the trees, the savage old Zamiel strike his daughter with his stick two
great blows, one of which was across the head. 'Beauty' ran only a short
distance away, while the swart old wood-demon stumped lustily after her,
cursing and brandishing his cudgel.

My blood boiled. I was so shocked that for a moment I could not speak; but
in a moment more I screamed--

'You brute! How dare you strike the poor girl?'

She had only run a few steps, and turned about confronting him and us, her
eyes gleaming fire, her features pale and quivering to suppress a burst of
weeping. Two little rivulets of blood were trickling over her temple.

'I say, fayther, look at that,' she said, with a strange tremulous smile,
lifting her hand, which was smeared with blood.

Perhaps he was ashamed, and the more enraged on that account, for he
growled another curse, and started afresh to reach her, whirling his stick
in the air. Our voices, however, arrested him.

'My uncle shall hear of your brutality. The poor girl!'

'Strike him, Meg, if he does it again; and pitch his leg into the river
to-night, when he's asleep.'

'I'd serve _you_ the same;' and out came an oath. 'You'd have her lick her
fayther, would ye? Look out!'

And he wagged his head with a scowl at Milly, and a flourish of his cudgel.

'Be quiet, Milly,' I whispered, for Milly was preparing for battle; and I
again addressed him with the assurance that, on reaching home, I would tell
my uncle how he had treated the poor girl.

''Tis you she may thank for't, a wheedling o' her to open that gate,' he
snarled.

'That's a lie; we went round by the brook,' cried Milly.

I did not think proper to discuss the matter with him; and looking very
angry, and, I thought, a little put out, he jerked and swayed himself out
of sight. I merely repeated my promise of informing my uncle as he went, to
which, over his shoulder, he bawled--

'Silas won't mind ye _that_;' snapping his horny finger and thumb.

The girl remained where she had stood, wiping the blood off roughly with
the palm of her hand, and looking at it before she rubbed it on her apron.
'My poor girl,' I said, 'you must not cry. I'll speak to my uncle about
you.'

But she was not crying. She raised her head, and looked at us a little
askance, with a sullen contempt, I thought.

'And you must have these apples--won't you?' We had brought in our basket
two or three of those splendid apples for which Bartram was famous.

I hesitated to go near her, these Hawkeses, Beauty and Pegtop, were such
savages. So I rolled the apples gently along the ground to her feet.

She continued to look doggedly at us with the same expression, and kicked
away the apples sullenly that approached her feet. Then, wiping her temple
and forehead in her apron, without a word, she turned and walked slowly
away.

'Poor thing! I'm afraid she leads a hard life. What strange, repulsive
people they are!'

When we reached home, at the head of the great staircase old L'Amour was
awaiting me; and with a courtesy, and very respectfully, she informed me
that the Master would be happy to see me.

Could it be about my evidence as to the arrival of the mysterious chaise
that he summoned me to this interview? Gentle as were his ways, there was
something undefinable about Uncle Silas which inspired fear; and I should
have liked few things less than meeting his gaze in the character of a
culprit.

There was an uncertainty, too, as to the state in which I might find him,
and a positive horror of beholding him again in the condition in which I
had last seen him.

I entered the room, then, in some trepidation, but was instantly relieved.
Uncle Silas was in the same health apparently, and, as nearly as I could
recollect it, in precisely the same rather handsome though negligent garb
in which I had first seen him.

Doctor Bryerly--what a marked and vulgar contrast, and yet, somehow, how
reassuring!--sat at the table near him, and was tying up papers. His eyes
watched me, I thought, with an anxious scrutiny as I approached; and I
think it was not until I had saluted him that he recollected suddenly that
he had not seen me before at Bartram, and stood up and greeted me in his
usual abrupt and somewhat familiar way. It was vulgar and not cordial, and
yet it was honest and indefinably kind. Up rose my uncle, that strangely
venerable, pale portrait, in his loose Rembrandt black velvet. How gentle,
how benignant, how unearthly, and inscrutable!

'I need not say how she is. Those lilies and roses, Doctor Bryerly, speak
their own beautiful praises of the air of Bartram. I almost regret that her
carriage will be home so soon. I only hope it may not abridge her rambles.
It positively does me good to look at her. It is the glow of flowers in
winter, and the fragrance of a field which the Lord hath blessed.'

'Country air, Miss Ruthyn, is a right good kitchen to country fare. I like
to see young women eat heartily. You have had some pounds of beef and
mutton since I saw you last,' said Dr. Bryerly.

And this sly speech made, he scrutinised my countenance in silence rather
embarrassingly.

'My system, Doctor Bryerly, as a disciple of Aesculapius you will
approve--health first, accomplishment afterwards. The Continent is the
best field for elegant instruction, and we must see the world a little,
by-and-by, Maud; and to me, if my health be spared, there would be an
unspeakable though a melancholy charm in the scenes where so many happy,
though so many wayward and foolish, young days were passed; and I think I
should return to these picturesque solitudes with, perhaps, an increased
relish. You remember old Chaulieu's sweet lines--

  Désert, aimable solitude,
  Séjour du calme et de la paix,
  Asile où n'entrèrent jamais
  Le tumulte et l'inquiétude.

I can't say that care and sorrow have not sometimes penetrated these sylvan
fastnesses; but the tumults of the world, thank Heaven!--never.'

There was a sly scepticism, I thought, in Doctor Bryerly's sharp face; and
hardly waiting for the impressive 'never,' he said--

'I forgot to ask, who is your banker?'

'Oh! Bartlet and Hall, Lombard Street,' answered Uncle Silas, dryly and
shortly.

Dr. Bryerly made a note of it, with an expression of face which seemed,
with a sly resolution, to say, 'You shan't come the anchorite over me.'

I saw Uncle Silas's wild and piercing eye rest suspiciously on me for a
moment, as if to ascertain whether I felt the spirit of Doctor Bryerly's
almost interruption; and, nearly at the same moment, stuffing his papers
into his capacious coat pockets, Doctor Bryerly rose and took his leave.

When he was gone, I bethought me that now was a good opportunity of making
my complaint of Dickon Hawkes. Uncle Silas having risen, I hesitated, and
began,

'Uncle, may I mention an occurrence--which I witnessed?'

'Certainly, child,' he answered, fixing his eye sharply on me. I really
think he fancied that the conversation was about to turn upon the phantom
chaise.

So I described the scene which had shocked Milly and me, an hour or so ago,
in the Windmill Wood.

'You see, my dear child, they are rough persons; their ideas are not ours;
their young people must be chastised, and in a way and to a degree that we
would look upon in a serious light. I've found it a bad plan interfering in
strictly domestic misunderstandings, and should rather not.'

'But he struck her violently on the head, uncle, with a heavy cudgel, and
she was bleeding very fast.'

'Ah?' said my uncle, dryly.

'And only that Milly and I deterred him by saying that we would certainly
tell you, he would have struck her again; and I really think if he goes on
treating her with so much violence and cruelty he may injure her seriously,
or perhaps kill her.'

'Why, you romantic little child, people in that rank of life think
absolutely nothing of a broken head,' answered Uncle Silas, in the same
way.

'But is it not horrible brutality, uncle?'

'To be sure it is brutality; but then you must remember they are brutes,
and it suits them,' said he.

I was disappointed. I had fancied that Uncle Silas's gentle nature would
have recoiled from such an outrage with horror and indignation; and
instead, here he was, the apologist of that savage ruffian, Dickon Hawkes.

'And he is always so rude and impertinent to Milly and to me,' I continued.
'Oh! impertinent to you--that's another matter. I must see to that. Nothing
more, my dear child?'

'Well, there _was_ nothing more.'

'He's a useful servant, Hawkes; and though his looks are not prepossessing,
and his ways and language rough, yet he is a very kind father, and a most
honest man--a thoroughly moral man, though severe--a very rough diamond
though, and has no idea of the refinements of polite society. I venture to
say he honestly believes that he has been always unexceptionably polite to
you, so we must make allowances.'

And Uncle Silas smoothed my hair with his thin aged hand, and kissed my
forehead.

'Yes, we must make allowances; we must be kind. What says the Book?--"Judge
not, that ye be not judged." Your dear father acted upon that maxim--so
noble and so awful--and I strive to do so. Alas! dear Austin, _longo
intervalle_, far behind! and you are removed--my example and my help; you
are gone to your rest, and I remain beneath my burden, still marching on by
bleak and alpine paths, under the awful night.

  O nuit, nuit douloureuse! O toi, tardive aurore!
  Viens-tu? vas-tu venir? es-tu bien loin encore?

And repeating these lines of Chenier, with upturned eyes, and one hand
lifted, and an indescribable expression of grief and fatigue, he sank
stiffly into his chair, and remained mute, with eyes closed for some time.
Then applying his scented handkerchief to them hastily, and looking very
kindly at me, he said--

'Anything more, dear child?'

'Nothing, uncle, thank you, very much, only about that man, Hawkes; I dare
say that he does not mean to be so uncivil as he is, but I am really afraid
of him, and he makes our walks in that direction quite unpleasant.'

'I understand quite, my dear. I will see to it; and you must remember that
nothing is to be allowed to vex my beloved niece and ward during her stay
at Bartram--nothing that her old kinsman, Silas Ruthyn, can remedy.'

So with a tender smile, and a charge to shut the door 'perfectly, but
without clapping it,' he dismissed me. Doctor Bryerly had not slept at
Bartram, but at the little inn in Feltram, and he was going direct to
London, as I afterwards learned.

'Your ugly doctor's gone away in a fly,' said Milly, as we met on the
stairs, she running up, I down.

On reaching the little apartment which was our sitting-room, however, I
found that she was mistaken; for Doctor Bryerly, with his hat and a great
pair of woollen gloves on, and an old Oxford grey surtout that showed his
lank length to advantage, buttoned all the way up to his chin, had set down
his black leather bag on the table, and was reading at the window a little
volume which I had borrowed from my uncle's library.

It was Swedenborg's account of the other worlds, Heaven and Hell.

He closed it on his finger as I entered, and without recollecting to remove
his hat, he made a step or two towards me with his splay, creaking boots.
With a quick glance at the door, he said--

'Glad to see you alone for a minute--very glad.'

But his countenance, on the contrary, looked very anxious.




CHAPTER XXXVIII

_A MIDNIGHT DEPARTURE_


'I'm going this minute--I--I want to know'--another glance at the
door--'are you really quite comfortable here?'

'Quite,' I answered promptly.

'You have only your cousin's company?' he continued, glancing at the table,
which was laid for two.

'Yes; but Milly and I are very happy together.'

'That's very nice; but I think there are no teachers, you see--painters,
and singers, and that sort of thing that is usual with young ladies. No
teachers of that kind--of _any_ kind--are there?' 'No; my uncle thinks it
better I should lay in a store of health, he says.'

'I know; and the carriage and horses have not come; how soon are they
expected?'

'I really can't say, and I assure you I don't much care. I think running
about great fun.'

'You walk to church?'

'Yes; Uncle Silas's carriage wants a new wheel, he told me.'

'Ay, but a young woman of your rank, you know, it is not usual she should
be without the use of a carriage. Have you horses to ride?'

I shook my head.

'Your uncle, you know, has a very liberal allowance for your maintenance
and education.'

I remembered something in the will about it, and Mary Quince was constantly
grumbling that 'he did not spend a pound a week on our board.'

I answered nothing, but looked down.

Another glance at the door from Doctor Bryerly's sharp black eyes.

'Is he kind to you?'

'Very kind--most gentle and affectionate.'

'Why doesn't he keep company with you? Does he ever dine with you, or drink
tea, or talk to you? Do you see much of him?'

'He is a miserable invalid--his hours and regimen are peculiar. Indeed
I wish very much you would consider his case; he is, I believe, often
insensible for a long time, and his mind in a strange feeble state
sometimes.'

'I dare say--worn out in his young days; and I saw that preparation of
opium in his bottle--he takes too much.'

'Why do you think so, Doctor Bryerly?'

'It's made on water: the spirit interferes with the use of it beyond a
certain limit. You have no idea what those fellows can swallow. Read the
"Opium Eater." I knew two cases in which the quantity exceeded De Quincy's.
Aha! it's new to you?' and he laughed quietly at my simplicity.

'And what do you think his complaint is?' I asked.

'Pooh! I haven't a notion; but, probably, one way or another, he has been
all his days working on his nerves and his brain. These men of pleasure,
who have no other pursuit, use themselves up mostly, and pay a smart price
for their sins. And so he's kind and affectionate, but hands you over to
your cousin and the servants. Are his people civil and obliging?'

'Well, I can't say much for them; there is a man named Hawkes, and his
daughter, who are very rude, and even abusive sometimes, and say they have
orders from my uncle to shut us out from a portion of the grounds; but I
don't believe that, for Uncle Silas never alluded to it when I was making
my complaint of them to-day.'

'From what part of the grounds is that?' asked Doctor Bryerly, sharply.

I described the situation as well as I could.

'Can we see it from this?' he asked, peeping from the window.

'Oh, no.'

Doctor Bryerly made a note in his pocket-book here, and I said--

'But I am really quite sure it was a story of Dickon's, he is such a surly,
disobliging man.'

'And what sort is that old servant that came in and out of his room?'

'Oh, that is old L'Amour,' I answered, rather indirectly, and forgetting
that I was using Milly's nickname.

'And is _she_ civil?' he asked.

No, she certainly was not; a most disagreeable old woman, with a vein of
wickedness. I thought I had heard her swearing.

'They don't seem to be a very engaging lot,' said Doctor Bryerly;' but
where there's one, there will be more. See here, I was just reading a
passage,' and he opened the little volume at the place where his finger
marked it, and read for me a few sentences, the purport of which I well
remember, although, of course, the words have escaped me.

It was in that awful portion of the book which assumes to describe the
condition of the condemned; and it said that, independently of the physical
causes in that state operating to enforce community of habitation, and an
isolation from superior spirits, there exist sympathies, aptitudes,
and necessities which would, of themselves, induce that depraved
gregariousness, and isolation too. 'And what of the rest of the servants,
are they better?' he resumed.

We saw little or nothing of the others, except of old 'Giblets,' the
butler, who went about like a little automaton of dry bones, poking here
and there, and whispering and smiling to himself as he laid the cloth; and
seeming otherwise quite unconscious of an external world.

'This room is not got up like Mr. Ruthyn's: does he talk of furnishings and
making things a little smart? No! Well, I must say, I think he might.'

Here there was a little silence, and Doctor Bryerly, with his accustomed
simultaneous glance at the door, said in low, cautious tones, very
distinctly--

'Have you been thinking at all over that matter again, I mean about getting
your uncle to forego his guardianship? I would not mind his first refusal.
You could make it worth his while, unless he--that is--unless he's very
unreasonable indeed; and I think you would consult your interest, Miss
Ruthyn, by doing so and, if possible, getting out of this place.'

'But I have not thought of it at all; I am much happier here than I had at
all expected, and I am very fond of my cousin Milly.'

'How long have you been here exactly?'

I told him. It was some two or three months.

'Have you seen your other cousin yet--the young gentleman?'

'No.'

'H'm! Aren't you very lonely?' he enquired.

'We see no visitors here; but that, you know, I was prepared for.'

Doctor Bryerly read the wrinkles on his splay boot intently and peevishly,
and tapped the sole lightly on the ground.

'Yes, it is very lonely, and the people a bad lot. You'd be pleasanter
somewhere else--with Lady Knollys, for instance, eh?'

'Well, _there_ certainly. But I am very well here: really the time passes
very pleasantly; and my uncle is so kind. I have only to mention anything
that annoys me, and he will see that it is remedied: he is always
impressing that on me.'

'Yes, it is not a fit place for you,' said Doctor Bryerly. 'Of course,
about your uncle,' he resumed, observing my surprised look, 'it is all
right: but he's quite helpless, you know. At all events, _think_ about it.
Here's my address--Hans Emmanuel Bryerly, M.D., 17 King Street, Covent
Garden, London--don't lose it, mind,' and he tore the leaf out of his
note-book.

'Here's my fly at the door, and you must--you must' (he was looking at his
watch)--'mind you _must_ think of it seriously; and so, you see, don't let
anyone see that. You'll be sure to leave it throwing about. The best way
will be just to scratch it on the door of your press, inside, you know; and
don't put my name--you'll remember that--only the rest of the address; and
burn this. Quince is with you?'

'Yes,' I answered, glad to have a satisfactory word to say.

'Well, don't let her go; it's a bad sign if they wish it. Don't consent,
mind; but just tip me a hint and you'll have me down. And any letters you
get from Lady Knollys, you know, for she's very plain-spoken, you'd better
burn them off-hand. And I've stayed too long, though; mind what I say,
scratch it with a pin, and burn that, and not a word to a mortal about it.
Good-bye; oh, I was taking away your book.'

And so, in a fuss, with a slight shake of the hand, getting up his
umbrella, his bag, and tin box, he hurried from the room; and in a minute
more, I heard the sound of his vehicle as it drove away.

I looked after it with a sigh; the uneasy sensations which I had
experienced respecting my sojourn at Bartram-Haugh were re-awakened.

My ugly, vulgar, true friend was disappearing beyond those gigantic lime
trees which hid Bartram from the eyes of the outer world. The fly, with the
doctor's valise on top, vanished, and I sighed an anxious sigh. The shadow
of the over-arching trees contracted, and I felt helpless and forsaken; and
glancing down the torn leaf, Doctor Bryerly's address met my eye, between
my fingers.

I slipt it into my breast, and ran up-stairs stealthily, trembling lest the
old woman should summon me again, at the head of the stairs, into Uncle
Silas's room, where under his gaze, I fancied, I should be sure to betray
myself.

But I glided unseen and safely by, entered my room, and shut my door. So
listening and working, I, with my scissors' point, scratched the address
where Doctor Bryerly had advised. Then, in positive terror, lest some one
should even knock during the operation, I, with a match, consumed to ashes
the tell-tale bit of paper.

Now, for the first time, I experienced the unpleasant sensations of
having a secret to keep. I fancy the pain of this solitary liability was
disproportionately acute in my case, for I was naturally very open and
very nervous. I was always on the point of betraying it _apropos des
bottes_--always reproaching myself for my duplicity; and in constant terror
when honest Mary Quince approached the press, or good-natured Milly made
her occasional survey of the wonders of my wardrobe. I would have given
anything to go and point to the tiny inscription, and say:--'This is Doctor
Bryerly's address in London. I scratched it with my scissors' point, taking
every precaution lest anyone--you, my good friends, included--should
surprise me. I have ever since kept this secret to myself, and trembled
whenever your frank kind faces looked into the press. There--you at last
know all about it. Can you ever forgive my deceit?'

But I could not make up my mind to reveal it; nor yet to erase the
inscription, which was my alternative thought. Indeed I am a wavering,
irresolute creature as ever lived, in my ordinary mood. High excitement or
passion only can inspire me with decision. Under the inspiration of either,
however, I am transformed, and often both prompt and brave.

'Some one left here last night, I think, Miss,' said Mary Quince, with a
mysterious nod, one morning. ''Twas two o'clock, and I was bad with the
toothache, and went down to get a pinch o' red pepper--leaving the candle
a-light here lest you should awake. When I was coming up--as I was crossing
the lobby, at the far end of the long gallery--what should I hear, but a
horse snorting, and some people a-talking, short and quiet like. So I looks
out o' the window; and there surely I did see two horses yoked to a shay,
and a fellah a-pullin' a box up o' top; and out comes a walise and a bag;
and I think it was old Wyat, please'm, that Miss Milly calls L'Amour, that
stood in the doorway a-talking to the driver.'

'And who got into the chaise, Mary?' I asked.

'Well, Miss, I waited as long as I could; but the pain was bad, and me so
awful cold; I gave it up at last, and came back to bed, for I could not say
how much longer they might wait. And you'll find, Miss,'twill be kep' a
secret, like the shay as you saw'd, Miss, last week. I hate them dark ways,
and secrets; and old Wyat--she does tell stories, don't she?--and she as
ought to be partickler, seein' her time be short now, and she so old. It is
awful, an old un like that telling such crams as she do.'

Milly was as curious as I, but could throw no light on this. We both
agreed, however, that the departure was probably that of the person whose
arrival I had accidentally witnessed. This time the chaise had drawn up
at the side door, round the corner of the left side of the house; and, no
doubt, driven away by the back road.

Another accident had revealed this nocturnal move. It was very provoking,
however, that Mary Quince had not had resolution to wait for the appearance
of the traveller. We all agreed, however, that we were to observe a strict
silence, and that even to Wyat--L'Amour I had better continue to call
her--Mary Quince was not to hint what she had seen. I suspect, however,
that injured curiosity asserted itself, and that Mary hardly adhered to
this self-denying resolve.

But cheerful wintry suns and frosty skies, long nights, and brilliant
starlight, with good homely fires in our snuggery--gossipings, stories,
short readings now and then, and brisk walks through the always beautiful
scenery of Bartram-Haugh, and, above all, the unbroken tenor of our life,
which had fallen into a serene routine, foreign to the idea of danger
or misadventure, gradually quieted the qualms and misgivings which my
interview with Doctor Bryerly had so powerfully resuscitated.

My cousin Monica, to my inexpressible joy, had returned to her
country-house; and an active diplomacy, through the post-office, was
negotiating the re-opening of friendly relations between the courts of
Elverston and of Bartram.

At length, one fine day, Cousin Monica, smiling pleasantly, with her cloak
and bonnet on, and her colour fresh from the shrewd air of the Derbyshire
hills, stood suddenly before me in our sitting-room. Our meeting was that
of two school-companions long separated. Cousin Monica was always a girl in
my eyes.

What a hug it was; what a shower of kisses and ejaculations, enquiries
and caresses! At last I pressed her down into a chair, and, laughing, she
said--

'You have no idea what self-denial I have exercised to bring this visit
about. I, who detest writing, have actually written five letters to Silas;
and I don't think I said a single impertinent thing in one of them! What a
wonderful little old thing your butler is! I did not know what to make of
him on the steps. Is he a struldbrug, or a fairy, or only a ghost? Where on
earth did your uncle pick him up? I'm sure he came in on All Hallows E'en,
to answer an incantation--not your future husband, I hope--and he'll vanish
some night into gray smoke, and whisk sadly up the chimney. He's the most
venerable little thing I ever beheld in my life. I leaned back in the
carriage and thought I should absolutely die of laughing. He's gone up to
prepare your uncle for my visit; and I really am very glad, for I'm sure I
shall look as young as Hebe after _him_. But who is this? Who are you, my
dear?'

This was addressed to poor Milly, who stood at the corner of the
chimney-piece, staring with her round eyes and plump cheeks in fear and
wonder upon the strange lady.

'How stupid of me,' I exclaimed. 'Milly, dear, this is your cousin, Lady
Knollys.'

'And so _you_ are Millicent. Well, dear, I am very glad to see you.' And
Cousin Monica was on her feet again in an instant, with Milly's hand very
cordially in hers; and she gave her a kiss upon each cheek, and patted her
head.

Milly, I must mention, was a much more presentable figure than when I first
encountered her. Her dresses were at least a quarter of a yard longer.
Though very rustic, therefore, she was not so barbarously grotesque, by any
means.




CHAPTER XXXIX

_COUSIN MONICA AND UNCLE SILAS MEET_


Cousin Monica, with her hands upon Milly's shoulders, looked amusedly and
kindly in her face. 'And,' said she, 'we must be very good friends--you
funny creature, you and I. I'm allowed to be the most saucy old woman in
Derbyshire--quite incorrigibly privileged; and nobody is ever affronted
with me, so I say the most shocking things constantly.'

'I'm a bit that way, myself; and I think,' said poor Milly, making an
effort, and growing very red; she quite lost her head at that point, and
was incompetent to finish the sentiment she had prefaced.

'You think? Now, take my advice, and never wait to think my dear; talk
first, and think afterwards, that is my way; though, indeed, I can't say
I ever think at all. It is a very cowardly habit. Our cold-blooded cousin
Maud, there, thinks sometimes; but it is always such a failure that I
forgive her. I wonder when your little pre-Adamite butler will return. He
speaks the language of the Picts and Ancient Britons, I dare say, and your
father requires a little time to translate him. And, Milly dear, I am very
hungry, so I won't wait for your butler, who would give me, I suppose, one
of the cakes baked by King Alfred, and some Danish beer in a skull; but
I'll ask you for a little of that nice bread and butter.'

With which accordingly Lady Knollys was quickly supplied; but it did not at
all impede her utterance.

'Do you think, girls, you could be ready to come away with me, if Silas
gives leave, in an hour or two? I should so like to take you both home with
me to Elverston.'

'How delightful! you darling,' cried I, embracing and kissing her; 'for my
part, I should be ready in five minutes; what do you say, Milly?'

Poor Milly's wardrobe, I am afraid, was more portable than handsome; and
she looked horribly affrighted, and whispered in my ear--

'My best petticoat is away at the laundress; say in a week, Maud.'

'What does she say?' asked Lady Knollys.

'She fears she can't be ready,' I answered, dejectedly.

'There's a deal of my slops in the wash,' blurted out poor Milly, staring
straight at Lady Knollys.

'In the name of wonder, what does my cousin mean?' asked Lady Knollys.

'Her things have not come home yet from the laundress,' I replied; and at
this moment our wondrous old butler entered to announce to Lady Knollys
that his master was ready to receive her, whenever she was disposed to
favour him; and also to make polite apologies for his being compelled, by
his state of health, to give her the trouble of ascending to his room.

So Cousin Monica was at the door in a moment, over her shoulder calling to
us, 'Come, girls.'

'Please, not yet, my lady--you alone; and he requests the young ladies will
be in the way, as he will send for them presently.'

I began to admire poor 'Giblets' as the wreck of a tolerably respectable
servant.

'Very good; perhaps it is better we should kiss and be friends in private
first,' said Cousin Knollys, laughing; and away she went under the guidance
of the mummy.

I had an account of this _tête-à-tête_ afterwards from Lady Knollys.

'When I saw him, my dear,' she said, 'I could hardly believe my eyes; such
white hair--such a white face--such mad eyes--such a death-like smile.
When I saw him last, his hair was dark; he dressed himself like a modern
Englishman; and he really preserved a likeness to the full-length portrait
at Knowl, that you fell in love with, you know; but, angels and ministers
of grace! such a spectre! I asked myself, is it necromancy, or is it
delirium tremens that has reduced him to this? And said he, with that
odious smile, that made me fancy myself half insane--

'"You see a change, Monica."

'What a sweet, gentle, insufferable voice he has! Somebody once told me
about the tone of a glass flute that made some people hysterical to listen
to, and I was thinking of it all the time. There was always a peculiar
quality in his voice.

'"I do see a change, Silas," I said at last; "and, no doubt, so do you in
me--a great change."

'"There has been time enough to work a greater than I observe in you since
you last honoured me with a visit," said he.

'I think he was at his old sarcasms, and meant that I was the same
impertinent minx he remembered long ago, uncorrected by time; and so I am,
and he must not expect compliments from old Monica Knollys.

'"It is a long time, Silas; but that, you know, is not my fault," said I.

'"Not your fault, my dear--your instinct. We are all imitative creatures:
the great people ostracised me, and the small ones followed. We are very
like turkeys, we have so much good sense and so much generosity. Fortune,
in a freak, wounded my head, and the whole brood were upon me, pecking and
gobbling, gobbling and pecking, and you among them, dear Monica. It wasn't
your fault, only your instinct, so I quite forgive you; but no wonder the
peckers wear better than the pecked. You are robust; and I, what I am."

'"Now, Silas, I have not come here to quarrel. If we quarrel now, mind, we
can never make it up--we are too old, so let us forget all we can, and try
to forgive something; and if we can do neither, at all events let there be
truce between us while I am here."

'"My personal wrongs I can quite forgive, and I do, Heaven knows, from my
heart; but there are things which ought not to be forgiven. My children
have been ruined by it. I may, by the mercy of Providence, be yet set right
in the world, and so soon as that time comes, I will remember, and I
will act; but my children--you will see that wretched girl, my
daughter--education, society, all would come too late--my children have
been ruined by it."

'"I have not done it; but I know what you mean," I said. "You menace
litigation whenever you have the means; but you forget that Austin placed
you under promise, when he gave you the use of this house and place, never
to disturb my title to Elverston. So there is my answer, if you mean that."

'"I mean what I mean," he replied, with his old smile.

'"You mean then," said I, "that for the pleasure of vexing me with
litigation, you are willing to forfeit your tenure of this house and
place."

'"Suppose I _did_ mean precisely that, why should I forfeit anything?
My beloved brother, by his will, has given me a right to the use of
Bartram-Haugh for my life, and attached no absurd condition of the kind you
fancy to his gift."

'Silas was in one of his vicious old moods, and liked to menace me. His
vindictiveness got the better of his craft; but he knows as well as I do
that he never could succeed in disturbing the title of my poor dear Harry
Knollys; and I was not at all alarmed by his threats; and I told him so, as
coolly as I speak to you now.

'"Well, Monica," he said, "I have weighed you in the balance, and you are
not found wanting. For a moment the old man possessed me: the thought of
my children, of past unkindness, and present affliction and disgrace,
exasperated me, and I was mad. It was but for a moment--the galvanic spasm
of a corpse. Never was breast more dead than mine to the passions and
ambitions of the world. They are not for white locks like these, nor for
a man who, for a week in every month, lies in the gate of death. Will you
shake hands? _Here_--I _do_ strike a truce; and I _do_ forget and forgive
_everything_."

'I don't know what he meant by this scene. I have no idea whether he was
acting, or lost his head, or, in fact, why or how it occurred; but I am
glad, darling, that, unlike myself, I was calm, and that a quarrel has not
been forced upon me.'

When our turn came and we were summoned to the presence, Uncle Silas was
quite as usual; but Cousin Monica's heightened colour, and the flash of her
eyes, showed plainly that something exciting and angry had occurred.

Uncle Silas commented in his own vein upon the effect of Bartram air and
liberty, all he had to offer; and called on me to say how I liked them. And
then he called Milly to him, kissed her tenderly, smiled sadly upon her,
and turning to Cousin Monica, said--

'This is my daughter Milly--oh! she has been presented to you down-stairs,
has she? You have, no doubt, been interested by her. As I told her cousin
Maud, though I am not yet quite a Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, she is a very
finished Miss Hoyden. Are not you, my poor Milly? You owe your distinction,
my dear, to that line of circumvallation which has, ever since your birth,
intercepted all civilisation on its way to Bartram. You are much obliged,
Milly, to everybody who, whether naturally or _un_-naturally, turned a sod
in that invisible, but impenetrable, work. For your accomplishments--rather
singular than fashionable--you are indebted, in part, to your cousin, Lady
Knollys. Is not she, Monica? _Thank_ her, Milly.'

'This is your _truce_, Silas,' said Lady Knollys, with a quiet sharpness.
'I think, Silas Ruthyn, you want to provoke me to speak in a way before
these young creatures which we should all regret.'

'So my badinage excites your temper, Monnie. Think how you _would_ feel,
then, if I had found you by the highway side, mangled by robbers, and set
my foot upon your throat, and spat in your face. But--stop this. Why have I
said this? simply to emphasize my forgiveness. See, girls, Lady Knollys and
I, cousins long estranged, forget and forgive the past, and join hands over
its buried injuries.'

'Well, _be_ it so; only let us have done with ironies and covert taunts.'

And with these words their hands were joined; and Uncle Silas, after he had
released hers, patted and fondled it with his, laughing icily and very low
all the time.

'I wish so much, dear Monica,' he said, when this piece of silent by-play
was over, 'that I could ask you to stay to-night; but absolutely I have not
a bed to offer, and even if I had, I fear my suit would hardly prevail.'

Then came Lady Knollys' invitation for Milly and me. He was very much
obliged; he smiled over it a great deal, meditating. I thought he was
puzzled; and amid his smiles, his wild eyes scanned Cousin Monica's frank
face once or twice suspiciously.

There was a difficulty--an _undefined_ difficulty--about letting us go that
day; but on a future one--soon--_very_ soon--he would be most happy.

Well, there was an end of that little project, for to-day at least; and
Cousin Monica was too well-bred to urge it beyond a certain point.

'Milly, my dear, will you put on your hat and show me the grounds about the
house? May she, Silas? I should like to renew my acquaintance.'

'You'll see them sadly neglected, Monnie. A poor man's pleasure grounds
must rely on Nature, and trust to her for effects. Where there is fine
timber, however, and abundance of slope, and rock, and hollow, we sometimes
gain in picturesqueness what we lose by neglect in luxury.'

Then, as Cousin Monica said she would cross the grounds by a path, and meet
her carriage at a point to which we would accompany her, and so make her
way home, she took leave of Uncle Silas; a ceremony whereat--without, I
thought, much zeal at either side--a kiss took place.

'Now, girls!' said Cousin Knollys, when we were fairly in motion over the
grass, 'what do you say--will he let you come--yes or no? I can't say, but
I think, dear,'--this to Milly--' he ought to let you see a little more of
the world than appears among the glens and bushes of Bartram. Very pretty
they are, like yourself; but very wild, and very little seen. Where is your
brother, Milly; is not he older than you?'

'I don't know where; and he is older by six years and a bit.'

By-and-by, when Milly was gesticulating to frighten some herons by the
river's brink into the air, Cousin Monica said confidentially to me--

'He has run away, I'm told--I wish I could believe it--and enlisted in a
regiment going to India, perhaps the best thing for him. Did you see him
here before his judicious self-banishment?'

'No.'

'Well, I suppose you have had no loss. Doctor Bryerly says from all he can
learn he is a very bad young man. And now tell me, dear, _is_ Silas kind to
you?'

'Yes, always gentle, just as you saw him to-day; but we don't see a great
deal of him--very little, in fact.'

'And how do you like your life and the people?' she asked.

'My life, very well; and the people, _pretty_ well. There's an old women we
don't like, old Wyat, she is cross and mysterious and tells untruths; but I
don't think she is dishonest--so Mary Quince says--and that, you know, is a
point; and there is a family, father and daughter, called Hawkes, who live
in the Windmill Wood, who are perfect savages, though my uncle says they
don't mean it; but they are very disagreeable, rude people; and except them
we see very little of the servants or other people. But there has been a
mysterious visit; some one came late at night, and remained for some days,
though Milly and I never saw them, and Mary Quince saw a chaise at the
side-door at two o'clock at night.'

Cousin Monica was so highly interested at this that she arrested her walk
and stood facing me, with her hand on my arm, questioning and listening,
and lost, as it seemed, in dismal conjecture.

'It is not pleasant, you know,' I said.

'No, it is not pleasant,' said Lady Knollys, very gloomily.

And just then Milly joined us, shouting to us to look at the herons flying;
so Cousin Monica did, and smiled and nodded in thanks to Milly, and was
again silent and thoughtful as we walked on.

'You are to come to me, mind, both of you girls,' she said, abruptly;' you
_shall_. I'll manage it.'

When silence returned, and Milly ran away once more to try whether the old
gray trout was visible in the still water under the bridge, Cousin Monica
said to me in a low tone, looking hard at me--

'You've not seen anything to frighten you, Maud? Don't look so alarmed,
dear,' she added with a little laugh, which was not very merry, however. 'I
don't mean frighten in any awful sense--in fact, I did not mean frighten
at all. I meant--I can't exactly express it--anything to vex, or make you
uncomfortable; have you?'

'No, I can't say I have, except that room in which Mr. Charke was found
dead.'

'Oh! you saw that, did you?--I should like to see it so much. Your bedroom
is not near it?'

'Oh, no; on the floor beneath, and looking to the front. And Doctor Bryerly
talked a little to me, and there seemed to be something on his mind more
than he chose to tell me; so that for some time after I saw him I really
was, as you say, frightened; but, except that, I really have had no cause.
And what was in your mind when you asked me?'

'Well, you know, Maud, you are afraid of ghosts, banditti, and
_every_thing; and I wished to know whether you were uncomfortable, and what
your particular bogle was just now--that, I assure you, was all; and I
know,' she continued, suddenly changing her light tone and manner for one
of pointed entreaty, 'what Doctor Bryerly said; and I _implore_ of you,
Maud, to think of it seriously; and when you come to me, you shall do so
with the intention of remaining at Elverston.'

'Now, Cousin Monica, is this fair? You and Doctor Bryerly both talk in the
same awful way to me; and I assure you, you don't know how nervous I am
sometimes, and yet you won't, either of you, say what you mean. Now,
Monica, dear cousin, won't you tell me?'

'You see, dear, it is so lonely; it's a strange place, and he so odd. I
don't like the place, and I don't like him. I've tried, but I can't, and I
think I never shall. He may be a very--what was it that good little silly
curate at Knowl used to call him?--a very advanced Christian--that is it,
and I hope he is; but if he is only what he used to be, his utter seclusion
from society removes the only check, except personal fear--and he never had
much of that--upon a very bad man. And you must know, my dear Maud, what a
prize you are, and what an immense trust it is.'

Suddenly Cousin Monica stopped short, and looked at me as if she had gone
too far.

'But, you know, Silas may be very good _now_, although he was wild and
selfish in his young days. Indeed I don't know what to make of him; but I
am sure when you have thought it over, you will agree with me and Doctor
Bryerly, that you must not stay here.'

It was vain trying to induce my cousin to be more explicit.

'I hope to see you at Elverston in a very few days. I will _shame_ Silas
into letting you come. I don't like his reluctance.'

'But don't you think he must know that Milly would require some little
outfit before her visit?'

'Well, I can't say. I hope that is all; but be it what it may, I'll
_make_ him let you come, and _immediately_, too.' After she had gone, I
experienced a repetition of those undefined doubts which had tortured me
for some time after my conversation with Dr. Bryerly. I had truly said,
however, I was well enough contented with my mode of life here, for I had
been trained at Knowl to a solitude very nearly as profound.




CHAPTER XL

_IN WHICH I MAKE ANOTHER COUSIN'S ACQUAINTANCE_


My correspondence about this time was not very extensive. About once a
fortnight a letter from honest Mrs. Rusk conveyed to me how the dogs and
ponies were, in queer English, oddly spelt; some village gossip, a critique
upon Doctor Clay's or the Curate's last sermon, and some severities
generally upon the Dissenters' doings, with loves to Mary Quince, and all
good wishes to me. Sometimes a welcome letter from cheerful Cousin Monica;
and now, to vary the series, a copy of complimentary verses, without a
signature, very adoring--very like Byron, I then fancied, and now, I must
confess, rather vapid. Could I doubt from whom they came?

I had received, about a month after my arrival, a copy of verses in the
same hand, in a plaintive ballad style, of the soldierly sort, in which the
writer said, that as living his sole object was to please me, so dying I
should be his latest thought; and some more poetic impieties, asking only
in return that when the storm of battle had swept over, I should 'shed
a tear' on seeing 'the _oak lie_, where it fell.' Of course, about
this lugubrious pun, there could be no misconception. The Captain was
unmistakably indicated; and I was so moved that I could no longer retain
my secret; but walking with Milly that day, confided the little romance to
that unsophisticated listener, under the chestnut trees. The lines were so
amorously dejected, and yet so heroically redolent of blood and gunpowder,
that Milly and I agreed that the writer must be on the verge of a
sanguinary campaign.

It was not easy to get at Uncle Silas's 'Times' or 'Morning Post,' which we
fancied would explain these horrible allusions; but Milly bethought her of
a sergeant in the militia, resident in Feltram, who knew the destination
and quarters of every regiment in the service; and circuitously, from
this authority, we learned, to my infinite relief, that Captain Oakley's
regiment had still two years to sojourn in England.

I was summoned one evening by old L'Amour, to my uncle's room. I remember
his appearance that evening so well, as he lay back in his chair; the
pillow; the white glare of his strange eye; his feeble, painful smile.

'You'll excuse my not rising, dear Maud, I am so miserably ill this
evening.'

I expressed my respectful condolence.

'Yes; I _am_ to be pitied; but pity is of no use, dear,' he murmured,
peevishly. 'I sent for you to make you acquainted with your cousin, my son.
Where are you Dudley?'

A figure seated in a low lounging chair, at the other side of the fire, and
which till then I had not observed, at these words rose up a little slowly,
like a man stiff after a day's hunting; and I beheld with a shock that held
my breath, and fixed my eyes upon him in a stare, the young man whom I had
encountered at Church Scarsdale, on the day of my unpleasant excursion
there with Madame, and who, to the best of my belief, was also one of that
ruffianly party who had so unspeakably terrified me in the warren at Knowl.

I suppose I looked very much affrighted. If I had been looking at a ghost I
could not have felt much more scared and incredulous.

When I was able to turn my eyes upon my uncle he was not looking at me; but
with a glimmer of that smile with which a father looks on a son whose youth
and comeliness he admires, his white face was turned towards the young man,
in whom I beheld nothing but the image of odious and dreadful associations.

'Come, sir,' said my uncle, we must not be too modest. Here's your cousin
Maud--what do you say?'

'How are ye, Miss?' he said, with a sheepish grin.

'Miss! Come, come. Miss us, no Misses,' said my uncle; 'she is Maud, and
you Dudley, or I mistake; or we shall have you calling Milly, madame.
She'll not refuse you her hand, I venture to think. Come, young gentleman,
speak for yourself.'

'How are ye, Maud?' he said, doing his best, and drawing near, he extended
his hand.' You're welcome to Bartram-Haugh, Miss.'

'Kiss your cousin, sir. Where's your gallantry? On my honour, I disown
you,' exclaimed my uncle, with more energy than he had shown before.

With a clumsy effort, and a grin that was both sheepish and impudent, he
grasped my hand and advanced his face. The imminent salute gave me strength
to spring back a step or two, and he hesitated.

My uncle laughed peevishly.

'Well, well, that will do, I suppose. In my time first-cousins did not meet
like strangers; but perhaps we were wrong; we are learning modesty from the
Americans, and old English ways are too gross for us.'

'I have--I've seen him before--that is;' and at this point I stopped.

My uncle turned his strange glare, in a sort of scowl of enquiry, upon me.

'Oh!--hey! why this is news. You never told me. Where have you met--eh,
Dudley?'

'Never saw her in my days, so far as I'm aweer on,' said the young man.

'No! Well, then, Maud, will _you_ enlighten us?' said Uncle Silas, coldly.

'I _did_ see that young gentleman before,' I faltered.

'Meaning _me_, ma'am?' he asked, coolly.

'Yes--certainly _you_. I _did_, uncle,' answered I.

'And where was it, my dear? Not at Knowl, I fancy. Poor dear Austin did not
trouble me or mine much with his hospitalities.'

This was not a pleasant tone to take in speaking of his dead brother and
benefactor; but at the moment I was too much engaged upon the one point to
observe it.

'I met'--I could not say my cousin--'I met him, uncle--your son--that young
gentleman--I _saw_ him, I should say, at Church Scarsdale, and afterwards
with some other persons in the warren at Knowl. It was the night our
gamekeeper was beaten.'

'Well, Dudley, what do you say to that?' asked Uncle Silas.

'I never _was_ at them places, so help me. I don't know where they be; and
I never set eyes on the young lady before, as I hope to be saved, in all
my days,' said he, with a countenance so unchanged and an air so confident
that I began to think I must be the dupe of one of those strange
resemblances which have been known to lead to positive identification in
the witness-box, afterwards proved to be utterly mistaken.

'You look so--so _uncomfortable_, Maud, at the idea of having seen him
before, that I hardly wonder at the vehemence of his denial. There was
plainly something disagreeable; but you see as respects him it is a total
mistake. My boy was always a truth-telling fellow--you may rely implicitly
on what he says. You were _not_ at those places?'

'I wish I may----,' began the ingenuous youth, with increased vehemence.

'There, there--that will do; your honour and word as a gentleman--and
_that_ you are, though a poor one--will quite satisfy your cousin Maud. Am
I right, my dear? I do assure you, as a gentleman, I never knew him to say
the thing that was not.'

So Mr. Dudley Ruthyn began, not to curse, but to swear, in the prescribed
form, that he had never seen me before, or the places I had named, 'since I
was weaned, by----'

'That's enough--now shake hands, if you won't kiss, like cousins,'
interrupted my uncle.

And very uncomfortably I did lend him my hand to shake.

'You'll want some supper, Dudley, so Maud and I will excuse your going.
Good-night, my dear boy,' and he smiled and waved him from the room.

'That's as fine a young fellow, I think, as any English father can boast
for his son--true, brave, and kind, and quite an Apollo. Did you observe
how finely proportioned he is, and what exquisite features the fellow has?
He's rustic and rough, as you see; but a year or two in the militia--I've a
promise of a commission for him--he's too old for the line--will form and
polish him. He wants nothing but manner; and I protest when he has had a
little drilling of that kind, I do believe he'll be as pretty a fellow as
you'd find in England.'

I listened with amazement. I could discover nothing but what was
disagreeable in the horrid bumpkin, and thought such an instance of the
blindness of parental partiality was hardly credible.

I looked down, dreading another direct appeal to my judgment; and Uncle
Silas, I suppose, referred those downcast looks to maiden modesty, for he
forbore to task mine by any new interrogatory.

Dudley Ruthyn's cool and resolute denial of ever having seen me or the
places I had named, and the inflexible serenity of his countenance while
doing so, did very much shake my confidence in my own identification of
him. I could not be _quite_ certain that the person I had seen at Church
Scarsdale was the very same whom I afterwards saw at Knowl. And now, in
this particular instance, after the lapse of a still longer period, could I
be perfectly certain that my memory, deceived by some accidental points of
resemblance, had not duped me, and wronged my cousin, Dudley Ruthyn?

I suppose my uncle had expected from me some signs of acquiesence in his
splendid estimate of his cub, and was nettled at my silence. After a short
interval he said--

'I've seen something of the world in my day, and I can say without a
misgiving of partiality, that Dudley is the material of a perfect English
gentleman. I am not blind, of course--the training must be supplied; a year
or two of good models, active self-criticism, and good society. I simply
say that the _material_ is there.'

Here was another interval of silence.

'And now tell me, child, what these recollections of
Church--Church--_what_?'

'Church Scarsdale,' I replied.

'Yes, thank you--Church Scarsdale and Knowl--are?'

So I related my stories as well as I could.

'Well, dear Maud, the adventure of Church Scarsdale is hardly so terrific
as I expected,' said Uncle Silas with a cold little laugh; 'and I don't
see, if he had really been the hero of it, why he should shrink from
avowing it. I know I should not. And I really can't say that your pic-nic
party in the grounds of Knowl has frightened me much more. A lady waiting
in the carriage, and two or three tipsy young men. Her presence seems to
me a guarantee that no mischief was meant; but champagne is the soul of
frolic, and a row with the gamekeepers a natural consequence. It happened
to me once--forty years ago, when I was a wild young buck--one of the worst
rows I ever was in.'

And Uncle Silas poured some eau-de-cologne over the corner of his
handkerchief, and touched his temples with it.

'If my boy had been there, I do assure you--and I know him--he would say so
at once. I fancy he would rather _boast_ of it. I never knew him utter an
untruth. When you know him a little you'll say so.'

With these words Uncle Silas leaned back exhausted, and languidly poured
some of his favourite eau-de-cologne over the palms of his hands, nodded a
farewell, and, in a whisper, wished me good-night.

'Dudley's come,' whispered Milly, taking me under the arm as I entered the
lobby. 'But I don't care: he never gives me nout; and he gets money from
Governor, as much as he likes, and I never a sixpence. It's a shame!'

So there was no great love between the only son and only daughter of the
younger line of the Ruthyns.

I was curious to learn all that Milly could tell me of this new inmate of
Bartram-Haugh; and Milly was communicative without having a great deal to
relate, and what I heard from her tended to confirm my own disagreeable
impressions about him. She was afraid of him. He was a 'woundy ugly
customer in a wax, she could tell me.' He was the only one 'she ever knowed
as had pluck to jaw the Governor.' But he was 'afeard on the Governor,
too.'

His visits to Bartram-Haugh, I heard, were desultory; and this, to my
relief, would probably not outlast a week or a fortnight. 'He _was_ such a
fashionable cove:' he was always 'a gadding about, mostly to Liverpool and
Birmingham, and sometimes to Lunnun, itself.' He was 'keeping company
one time with Beauty, Governor thought, and he was awfully afraid he'd a
married her; but that was all bosh and nonsense; and Beauty would have none
of his chaff and wheedling, for she liked Tom Brice;' and Milly thought
that Dudley never 'cared a crack of a whip for her.' He used to go to the
Windmill to have 'a smoke with Pegtop;' and he was a member of the Feltram
Club, that met at the 'Plume o' Feathers.' He was 'a rare good shot,' she
heard; and 'he was before the justices for poaching, but they could make
nothing of it.' And the Governor said 'it was all through spite of him--for
they hate us for being better blood than they.' And 'all but the squires
and those upstart folk loves Dudley, he is so handsome and gay--though he
be a bit cross at home.' And, 'Governor says, he'll be a Parliament man
yet, spite o' them all.'

Next morning, when our breakfast was nearly ended, Dudley tapped at the
window with the end of his clay pipe--a 'churchwarden' Milly called
it--just such a long curved pipe as Joe Willet is made to hold between his
lips in those charming illustrations of 'Barnaby Rudge'--which we all know
so well--and lifting his 'wide-awake' with a burlesque salutation, which, I
suppose, would have charmed the 'Plume of Feathers,' he dropped, kicked and
caught his 'wide-awake,' with an agility and gravity, as he replaced it, so
inexpressibly humorous, that Milly went off in a loud fit of laughter, with
the ejaculation--

'Did you ever?'

It was odd how repulsively my confidence in my original identification
always revived on unexpectedly seeing Dudley after an interval.

I could perceive that this piece of comic by-play was meant to make a
suitable impression on me. I received it, however, with a killing gravity;
and after a word or two to Milly, he lounged away, having first broken his
pipe, bit by bit, into pieces, which he balanced in turn on his nose and
on his chin, from which features he jerked them into his mouth, with a
precision which, along with his excellent pantomime of eating them, highly
excited Milly's mirth and admiration.




CHAPTER XLI

_MY COUSIN DUDLEY_


Greatly to my satisfaction, this engaging person did not appear again that
day. But next day Milly told me that my uncle had taken him to task for the
neglect with which he was treating us.

'He did pitch into him, sharp and short, and not a word from him, only
sulky like; and I so frightened, I durst not look up almost; and they said
a lot I could not make head or tail of; and Governor ordered me out o' the
room, and glad I was to go; and so they had it out between them.'

Milly could throw no light whatsoever upon the adventures at Church
Scarsdale and Knowl; and I was left still in doubt, which sometimes
oscillated one way and sometimes another. But, on the whole, I could
not shake off the misgivings which constantly recurred and pointed very
obstinately to Dudley as the hero of those odious scenes.

Oddly enough, though, I now felt far less confident upon the point than I
did at first sight. I had begun to distrust my memory, and to suspect my
fancy; but of this there could be no question, that between the person so
unpleasantly linked in my remembrance with those scenes, and Dudley Ruthyn,
a striking, though possibly only a general resemblance did exist.

Milly was certainly right as to the gist of Uncle Silas's injunction, for
we saw more of Dudley henceforward.

He was shy; he was impudent; he was awkward; he was conceited;--altogether
a most intolerable bumpkin. Though he sometimes flushed and stammered, and
never for a moment was at his ease in my presence, yet, to my inexpressible
disgust, there was a self-complacency in his manner, and a kind of triumph
in his leer, which very plainly told me how satisfied he was as to the
nature of the impression he was making upon me.

I would have given worlds to tell him how odious I thought him. Probably,
however, he would not have believed me. Perhaps he fancied that 'ladies'
affected airs of indifference and repulsion to cover their real feelings. I
never looked at or spoke to him when I could avoid either, and then it was
as briefly as I could. To do him justice, however, he seemed to have no
liking for our society, and certainly never seemed altogether comfortable
in it.

I find it hard to write quite impartially even of Dudley Ruthyn's personal
appearance; but, with an effort, I confess that his features were good, and
his figure not amiss, though a little fattish. He had light whiskers, light
hair, and a pink complexion, and very good blue eyes. So far my uncle was
right; and if he had been perfectly gentlemanlike, he really might have
passed for a handsome man in the judgment of some critics.

But there was that odious mixture of _mauvaise honte_ and impudence, a
clumsiness, a slyness, and a consciousness in his bearing and countenance,
not distinctly boorish, but _low_, which turned his good looks into an
ugliness more intolerable than that of feature; and a corresponding
vulgarity pervading his dress, his demeanour, and his very walk, marred
whatever good points his figure possessed. If you take all this into
account, with the ominous and startling misgivings constantly recurring,
you will understand the mixed feelings of anger and disgust with which I
received the admiration he favoured me with.

Gradually he grew less constrained in my presence, and certainly his
manners were not improved by his growing ease and confidence.

He came in while Milly and I were at luncheon, jumped up, with a
'right-about face' performed in the air, sitting on the sideboard, whence
grinning slyly and kicking his heels, he leered at us.

'Will you have something, Dudley?' asked Milly.

'No, lass; but I'll look at ye, and maybe drink a drop for company.'

And with these words, he took a sportsman's flask from his pocket; and
helping himself to a large glass and a decanter, he compounded a glass of
strong brandy-and-water, as he talked, and refreshed himself with it from
time to time.

'Curate's up wi' the Governor,' he said, with a grin. 'I wanted a word wi'
him; but I s'pose I'll hardly git in this hour or more; they're a praying
and disputing, and a Bible-chopping, as usual. Ha, ha! But 'twon't hold
much longer, old Wyat says, now that Uncle Austin's dead; there's nout to
be made o' praying and that work no longer, and it don't pay of itself.'

'O fie! For shame, you sinner!' laughed Milly. 'He wasn't in a church these
five years, he says, and then only to meet a young lady. Now, isn't he a
sinner, Maud--isn't he?'

Dudley, grinning, looked with a languishing slyness at me, biting the edge
of his wide-awake, which he held over his breast.

Dudley Ruthyn probably thought there was a manly and desperate sort of
fascination in the impiety he professed.

'I wonder, Milly,' said I, 'at your laughing. How _can_ you laugh?'

'You'd have me cry, would ye?' answered Milly.

'I certainly would not have you laugh,' I replied.

'I know I wish _some_ one 'ud cry for me, and I know who,' said Dudley, in
what he meant for a very engaging way, and he looked at me as if he thought
I must feel flattered by his caring to have my tears.

Instead of crying, however, I leaned back in my chair, and began quietly to
turn over the pages of Walter Scott's poems, which I and Milly were then
reading in the evenings.

The tone in which this odious young man spoke of his father, his coarse
mention of mine, and his low boasting of his irreligion, disgusted me more
than ever with him.

'They parsons be slow coaches--awful slow. I'll have a good bit to wait, I
s'pose. I should be three miles away and more by this time--drat it!' He
was eyeing the legging of the foot which he held up while he spoke, as if
calculating how far away that limb should have carried him by this time.
'Why can't folk do their Bible and prayers o' Sundays, and get it off
their stomachs? I say, Milly lass, will ye see if Governor be done wi' the
Curate? Do. I'm a losing the whole day along o' him.'

Milly jumped up, accustomed to obey her brother, and as she passed me,
whispered, with a wink--

'_Money_.'

And away she went. Dudley whistled a tune, and swung his foot like a
pendulum, as he followed her with his side-glance.

'I say, it is a hard case, Miss, a lad o' spirit should be kept so tight. I
haven't a shilling but what comes through his fingers; an' drat the tizzy
he'll gi' me till he knows the reason why.'

'Perhaps,' I said, 'my uncle thinks you should earn some for yourself.'

'I'd like to know how a fella's to earn money now-a-days. You wouldn't have
a gentleman to keep a shop, I fancy. But I'll ha' a fistful jist now, and
no thanks to he. Them executors, you know, owes me a deal o' money. Very
honest chaps, of course; but they're cursed slow about paying, I know.'

I made no remark upon this elegant allusion to the executors of my dear
father's will.

'An' I tell ye, Maud, when I git the tin, I know who I'll buy a farin' for.
I do, lass.'

The odious creature drawled this with a sidelong leer, which, I suppose, he
fancied quite irresistible.

I am one of those unfortunate persons who always blushed when I most
wished to look indifferent; and now, to my inexpressible chagrin, with its
accustomed perversity, I felt the blush mount to my cheeks, and glow even
on my forehead.

I saw that he perceived this most disconcerting indication of a sentiment
the very idea of which was so detestable, that, equally enraged with myself
and with him, I did not know how to exhibit my contempt and indignation.

Mistaking the cause of my discomposure, Mr. Dudley Ruthyn laughed softly,
with an insufferable suavity.

'And there's some'at, lass, I must have in return. Honour thy father, you
know; you would not ha' me disobey the Governor? No, you wouldn't--would
ye?'

I darted at him a look which I hoped would have quelled his impertinence;
but I blushed most provokingly--more violently than ever.

'I'd back them eyes again' the county, I would,' he exclaimed, with a
condescending enthusiasm. 'You're awful pretty, you are, Maud. I don't know
what came over me t'other night when Governor told me to buss ye; but dang
it, ye shan't deny me now, and I'll have a kiss, lass, in spite o' thy
blushes.'

He jumped from his elevated seat on the sideboard, and came swaggering
toward me, with an odious grin, and his arms extended. I started to my
feet, absolutely transported with fury.

'Drat me, if she baint a-going to fight me!' he chuckled humorously.

'Come, Maud, you would not be ill-natured, sure? Arter all, it's only our
duty. Governor bid us kiss, didn't he?'

'Don't--_don't_, sir. Stand back, or I'll call the servants.'

And as it was I began to scream for Milly.

'There's how it is wi' all they cattle! You never knows your own mind--ye
don't,' he said, surlily. 'You make such a row about a bit o' play. Drop
it, will you? There's no one a-harming you--is there? _I_'m not, for
sartain.'

And, with an angry chuckle, he turned on his heel, and left the room.

I think I was perfectly right to resist, with all the vehemence of which I
was capable, this attempt to assume an intimacy which, notwithstanding my
uncle's opinion to the contrary, seemed to me like an outrage.

Milly found me alone--not frightened, but very angry. I had quite made up
my mind to complain to my uncle, but the Curate was still with him; and,
by the time he had gone, I was cooler. My awe of my uncle had returned. I
fancied that he would treat the whole affair as a mere playful piece of
gallantry. So, with the comfortable conviction that he had had a lesson,
and would think twice before repeating his impertinence, I resolved, with
Milly's approbation, to leave matters as they were.

Dudley, greatly to my comfort, was huffed with me, and hardly appeared, and
was sulky and silent when he did. I lived then in the pleasant anticipation
of his departure, which, Milly thought, would be very soon.

My uncle had his Bible and his consolations; but it cannot have been
pleasant to this old _roué_, converted though he was--this refined man
of fashion--to see his son grow up an outcast, and a Tony Lumpkin; for
whatever he may have thought of his natural gifts, he must have known how
mere a boor he was.

I try to recall my then impressions of my uncle's character. Grizzly and
chaotic the image rises--silver head, feet of clay. I as yet knew little of
him.

I began to perceive that he was what Mary Quince used to call 'dreadful
particular'--I suppose a little selfish and impatient. He used to get cases
of turtle from Liverpool. He drank claret and hock for his health, and ate
woodcock and other light and salutary dainties for the same reason; and
was petulant and vicious about the cooking of these, and the flavour and
clearness of his coffee.

His conversation was easy, polished, and, with a sentimental glazing, cold;
but across this artificial talk, with its French rhymes, racy phrases,
and fluent eloquence, like a streak of angry light, would, at intervals,
suddenly gleam some dismal thought of religion. I never could quite satisfy
myself whether they were affectations or genuine, like intermittent thrills
of pain.

The light of his large eyes was very peculiar. I can liken it to nothing
but the sheen of intense moonlight on burnished metal. But that cannot
express it. It glared white and suddenly--almost fatuous. I thought of
Moore's lines whenever I looked on it:--

  Oh, ye dead! oh, ye dead! whom we know by the light you give
  From your cold gleaming eyes, though you move like men who live.

I never saw in any other eye the least glimmer of the same baleful
effulgence. His fits, too--his hoverings between life and death--between
intellect and insanity--a dubious, marsh-fire existence, horrible to look
on!

I was puzzled even to comprehend his feelings toward his children.
Sometimes it seemed to me that he was ready to lay down his soul for them;
at others, he looked and spoke almost as if he hated them. He talked as if
the image of death was always before him, yet he took a terrible interest
in life, while seemingly dozing away the dregs of his days in sight of his
coffin.

Oh! Uncle Silas, tremendous figure in the past, burning always in memory in
the same awful lights; the fixed white face of scorn and anguish! It
seems as if the Woman of Endor had led me to that chamber and showed me a
spectre.

Dudley had not left Bartram-Haugh when a little note reached me from Lady
Knollys. It said--

'DEAREST MAUD,--I have written by this post to Silas, beseeching a loan of
you and my Cousin Milly. I see no reason your uncle can possibly have for
refusing me; and, therefore, I count confidently on seeing you both at
Elverston to-morrow, to stay for at least a week. I have hardly a creature
to meet you. I have been disappointed in several visitors; but another time
we shall have a gayer house. Tell Milly--with my love--that I will not
forgive her if she fails to accompany you.

'Believe me ever your affectionate cousin,

'MONICA KNOLLYS.'

Milly and I were both afraid that Uncle Silas would refuse his consent,
although we could not divine any sound reason for his doing so, and there
were many in favour of his improving the opportunity of allowing poor Milly
to see some persons of her own sex above the rank of menials.

At about twelve o'clock my uncle sent for us, and, to our great delight,
announced his consent, and wished us a very happy excursion.




CHAPTER XLII

_ELVERSTON AND ITS PEOPLE_


So Milly and I drove through the gabled high street of Feltram next day. We
saw my gracious cousin smoking with a man like a groom, at the door of the
'Plume of Feathers.' I drew myself back as we passed, and Milly popped her
head out of the window.

'I'm blessed,' said she, laughing, 'if he hadn't his thumb to his nose, and
winding up his little finger, the way he does with old Wyat--L'Amour, ye
know; and you may be sure he said something funny, for Jim Jolliter was
laughin', with his pipe in his hand.'

'I wish I had not seen him, Milly. I feel as if it were an ill omen. He
always looks so cross; and I dare say he wished us some ill,' I said.

'No, no, you don't know Dudley: if he were angry, he'd say nothing that's
funny; no, he's not vexed, only shamming vexed.'

The scenery through which we passed was very pretty. The road brought us
through a narrow and wooded glen. Such studies of ivied rocks and twisted
roots! A little stream tinkled lonely through the hollow. Poor Milly! In
her odd way she made herself companionable. I have sometimes fancied an
enjoyment of natural scenery not so much a faculty as an acquirement. It is
so exquisite in the instructed, so strangely absent in uneducated humanity.
But certainly with Milly it was inborn and hearty; and so she could enter
into my raptures, and requite them.

Then over one of those beautiful Derbyshire moors we drove, and so into
a wide wooded hollow, where was our first view of Cousin Monica's pretty
gabled house, beautified with that indescribable air of shelter and comfort
which belongs to an old English residence, with old timber grouped round
it, and something in its aspect of the quaint old times and bygone
merrymakings, saying sadly, but genially, 'Come in: I bid you welcome.
For two hundred years, or more, have I been the home of this beloved old
family, whose generations I have seen in the cradle and in the coffin, and
whose mirth and sorrows and hospitalities I remember. All their friends,
like you, were welcome; and you, like them, will here enjoy the warm
illusions that cheat the sad conditions of mortality; and like them you
will go your way, and others succeed you, till at last I, too, shall yield
to the general law of decay, and disappear.'

By this time poor Milly had grown very nervous; a state which she described
in such very odd phraseology as threw me, in spite of myself--for I
affected an impressive gravity in lecturing her upon her language--into a
hearty fit of laughter.

I must mention, however, that in certain important points Milly was very
essentially reformed. Her dress, though not very fashionable, was no longer
absurd. And I had drilled her into speaking and laughing quietly; and
for the rest I trusted to the indulgence which is always, I think, more
honestly and easily obtained from well-bred than from under-bred people.

Cousin Monica was out when we arrived; but we found that she had arranged a
double-bedded room for me and Milly, greatly to our content; and good Mary
Quince was placed in the dressing-room beside us.

We had only just commenced our toilet when our hostess entered, as usual in
high spirits, welcomed and kissed us both again and again. She was, indeed,
in extraordinary delight, for she had anticipated some stratagem or evasion
to prevent our visit; and in her usual way she spoke her mind as frankly
about Uncle Silas to poor Milly as she used to do of my dear father to me.

'I did not think he would let you come without a battle; and you know if
he chose to be obstinate it would not have been easy to get you out of the
enchanted ground, for so it seems to be with that awful old wizard in the
midst of it. I mean, Silas, your papa, my dear. Honestly, is not he very
like Michael Scott?'

'I never saw him,' answered poor Milly. 'At least, that I'm aware of,' she
added, perceiving us smile. 'But I do think he's a thought like old Michael
Dobbs, that sells the ferrets, maybe you mean him?'

'Why, you told me, Maud, that you and Milly were reading Walter Scott's
poems. Well, no matter. Michael Scott, my dear, was a dead wizard, with
ever so much silvery hair, lying in his grave for ever so many years, with
just life enough to scowl when they took his book; and you'll find him in
the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," exactly like your papa, my dear. And my
people tell me that your brother Dudley has been seen drinking and smoking
about Feltram this week. How long does he remain at home? Not very long,
eh? And, Maud, dear, he has not been making love to you? Well, I see; of
course he has. And _apropos_ of love-making, I hope that impudent creature,
Charles Oakley, has not been teasing you with notes or verses.'

'Indeed but he has though,' interposed Miss Milly; a good deal to my
chagrin, for I saw no particular reason for placing his verses in Cousin
Monica's hands. So I confessed the two little copies of verses, with the
qualification, however, that I did not know from whom they came.

'Well now, dear Maud, have not I told you fifty times over to have nothing
to say to him? I've found out, my dear, he plays, and he is very much in
debt. I've made a vow to pay no more for him. I've been such a fool, you
have no notion; and I'm speaking, you know, against myself; it would be
such a relief if he were to find a wife to support him; and he has been,
I'm told, very sweet upon a rich old maid--a button-maker's sister, in
Manchester.'

This arrow was well shot.

'But don't be frightened: you are richer as well as younger; and, no doubt,
will have your chance first, my dear; and in the meantime, I dare say,
those verses, like Falstaff's _billet-doux,_ you know, are doing double
duty.'

I laughed, but the button-maker was a secret trouble to me; and I would
have given I know not what that Captain Oakley were one of the company,
that I might treat him with the refined contempt which his deserts and my
dignity demanded.

Cousin Monica busied herself about Milly's toilet, and was a very useful
lady's maid, chatting in her own way all the time; and, at last, tapping
Milly under the chin with her finger, she said, very complacently--

'I think I have succeeded, Miss Milly; look in the glass. She really is a
very pretty creature.'

And Milly blushed, and looked with a shy gratification, which made her
still prettier, on the mirror.

Milly indeed was very pretty. She looked much taller now that her dresses
were made of the usual length. A little plump she was, beautifully fair,
with such azure eyes, and rich hair.

'The more you laugh the better, Milly, for you've got very pretty
teeth--very pretty; and if you were my daughter, or if your father would
become president of a college of magicians, and give you up to me, I
venture to say I would place you very well; and even as it is we must try,
my dear.'

So down to the drawing-room we went; and Cousin Monica entered, leading us
both by the hands.

By this time the curtains were closed, and the drawing-room dependent on
the pleasant glow of the fire, and the slight provisional illumination
usual before dinner.

'Here are my two cousins,' began Lady Knollys: 'this is Miss Ruthyn, of
Knowl, whom I take the liberty of calling Maud; and this is Miss Millicent
Ruthyn, Silas's daughter, you know, whom I venture to call Milly; and they
are very pretty, as you will see, when we get a little more light, and they
know it very well themselves.'

And as she spoke, a frank-eyed, gentle, prettyish lady, not so tall as I,
but with a very kind face, rose up from a book of prints, and, smiling,
took our hands.

She was by no means young, as I then counted youth--past thirty, I
suppose--and with an air that was very quiet, and friendly, and engaging.
She had never been a mere fashionable woman plainly; but she had the ease
and polish of the best society, and seemed to take a kindly interest both
in Milly and me; and Cousin Monica called her Mary, and sometimes Polly.
That was all I knew of her for the present.

So very pleasantly the time passed by till the dressing-bell rang, and we
ran away to our room.

'Did I say anything very bad?' asked poor Milly, standing exactly before
me, so soon as our door was shut.

'Nothing, Milly; you are doing admirably.'

'And I do look a great fool, don't I?' she demanded.

'You look extremely pretty, Milly; and not a bit like a fool.'

'I watch everything. I think I'll learn it at last; but it comes a little
troublesome at first; and they do talk different from what I used--you were
quite right there.'

When we returned to the drawing-room, we found the party already assembled,
and chatting, evidently with spirit.

The village doctor, whose name I forget, a small man, grey, with shrewd
grey eyes, sharp and mulberry nose, whose conflagration extended to his
rugged cheeks, and touched his chin and forehead, was conversing, no doubt
agreeably, with Mary, as Cousin Monica called her guest.

Over my shoulder, Milly whispered--

'Mr. Carysbroke.'

And Milly was quite right: that gentleman chatting with Lady Knollys, his
elbow resting on the chimney-piece, was, indeed, our acquaintance of the
Windmill Wood. He instantly recognised us, and met us with his pleased and
intelligent smile.

'I was just trying to describe to Lady Knollys the charming scenery of the
Windmill Wood, among which I was so fortunate as to make your acquaintance,
Miss Ruthyn. Even in this beautiful county I know of nothing prettier.'

Then he sketched it, as it were, with a few light but glowing words.

'What a sweet scene!' said Cousin Monica: 'only think of her never bringing
me through it. She reserves it, I fancy, for her romantic adventures; and
you, I know, are very benevolent, Ilbury, and all that kind of thing; but I
am not quite certain that you would have walked along that narrow parapet,
over a river, to visit a sick old woman, if you had not happened to see two
very pretty demoiselles on the other side.'

'What an ill-natured speech! I must either forfeit my character for
disinterested benevolence, so justly admired, or disavow a motive that does
such infinite credit to my taste,' exclaimed Mr. Carysbroke. 'I think a
charitable person would have said that a philanthropist, in prosecuting his
virtuous, but perilous vocation, was unexpectedly _rewarded_ by a vision of
angels.'

'And with these angels loitered away the time which ought to have been
devoted to good Mother Hubbard, in her fit of lumbago, and returned without
having set eyes on that afflicted Christian, to amaze his worthy sister
with poetic babblings about wood-nymphs and such pagan impieties,' rejoined
Lady Knollys.

'Well, be just,' he replied, laughing; 'did not I go next day and see the
patient?'

'Yes; next day you went by the same route--in quest of the dryads, I am
afraid--and were rewarded by the spectacle of Mother Hubbard.'

'Will nobody help a humane man in difficulties?' Mr. Carysbroke appealed.

'I do believe,' said the lady whom as yet I knew only as Mary, 'that every
word that Monica says is perfectly true.'

'And if it be so, am I not all the more in need of help? Truth is simply
the most dangerous kind of defamation, and I really think I'm most cruelly
persecuted.'

At this moment dinner was announced, and a meek and dapper little
clergyman, with smooth pink cheeks, and tresses parted down the middle,
whom I had not seen before, emerged from shadow.

This little man was assigned to Milly, Mr. Carysbroke to me, and I know not
how the remaining ladies divided the doctor between them.

That dinner, the first at Elverston, I remember as a very pleasant repast.
Everyone talked--it was impossible that conversation should flag where Lady
Knollys was; and Mr. Carysbroke was very agreeable and amusing. At the
other side of the table, the little pink curate, I was happy to see, was
prattling away, with a modest fluency, in an under-tone to Milly, who was
following my instructions most conscientiously, and speaking in so low a
key that I could hardly hear at the opposite side one word she was saying.

That night Cousin Monica paid us a visit, as we sat chatting by the fire in
our room; and I told her--

'I have just been telling Milly what an impression she has made. The pretty
little clergyman--_il en est épris_--he has evidently quite lost his heart
to her. I dare say he'll preach next Sunday on some of King Solomon's wise
sayings about the irresistible strength of women.'

'Yes,' said Lady Knollys,' or maybe on the sensible text, "Whoso findeth
a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour," and so forth. At all
events, I may say, Milly, whoso findeth a husband such as he, findeth a
tolerably good thing. He is an exemplary little creature, second son of Sir
Harry Biddlepen, with a little independent income of his own, beside his
church revenues of ninety pounds a year; and I don't think a more harmless
and docile little husband could be found anywhere; and I think, Miss Maud,
_you_ seemed a good deal interested, too.'

I laughed and blushed, I suppose; and Cousin Monica, skipping after her
wont to quite another matter, said in her odd frank way--

'And how has Silas been?--not cross, I hope, or very odd. There was a
rumour that your brother, Dudley, had gone a soldiering to India, Milly, or
somewhere; but that was all a story, for he has turned up, just as usual.
And what does he mean to do with himself? He has got some money now--your
poor father's will, Maud. Surely he doesn't mean to go on lounging and
smoking away his life among poachers, and prize-fighters, and worse people.
He ought to go to Australia, like Thomas Swain, who, they say, is making a
fortune--a great fortune--and coming home again. That's what your brother
Dudley should do, if he has either sense or spirit; but I suppose he
won't--too long abandoned to idleness and low company--and he'll not have a
shilling left in a year or two. Does he know, I wonder, that his father has
served a notice or something on Dr. Bryerly, telling him to pay sixteen
hundred pounds of poor Austin's legacy to _him_, and saying that he has
paid debts of the young man, and holds his acknowledgments to that amount?
He won't have a guinea in a year if he stays here. I'd give fifty pounds he
was in Van Diemen's Land--not that I care for the cub, Milly, any more than
you do; but I really don't see any honest business he has in England.'

Milly gaped in a total puzzle as Lady Knollys rattled on.

'You know, Milly, you must not be talking about this when you go home to
Bartram, because Silas would prevent your coming to me any more if he
thought I spoke so freely; but I can't help it: so you must promise to be
more discreet than I. And I am told that all kinds of claims are about to
be pressed against him, now that he is thought to have got some money; and
he has been cutting down oak and selling the bark, Doctor Bryerly has been
told, in that Windmill Wood; and he has kilns there for burning charcoal,
and got a man from Lancashire who understands it--Hawk, or something like
that.'

'Ay, Hawkes--Dickon Hawkes; that's Pegtop, you know, Maud,' said Milly.

'Well, I dare say; but a man of very bad character, Dr. Bryerly says; and
he has written to Mr. Danvers about it--for that is what they call waste,
cutting down and selling the timber, and the oakbark, and burning the
willows, and other trees that are turned into charcoal. It is all _waste_,
and Dr. Bryerly is about to put a stop to it.'

'Has he got your carriage for you, Maud, and your horses?' asked Cousin
Monica, suddenly.

'They have not come yet, but in a few weeks, Dudley says, positively--'

Cousin Monica laughed a little and shook her head.

'Yes, Maud, the carriage and horses will always be coming in a few weeks,
till the time is over; and meanwhile the old travelling chariot and
post-horses will do very well;' and she laughed a little again.

'That's why the stile's pulled away at the paling, I suppose; and
Beauty--Meg Hawkes, that is--is put there to stop us going through; for I
often spied the smoke beyond the windmill,' observed Milly.

Cousin Monica listened with interest, and nodded silently.

I was very much shocked. It seemed to me quite incredible. I think Lady
Knollys read my amazement and my exalted estimate of the heinousness of the
procedure in my face, for she said--

'You know we can't quite condemn Silas till we have heard what he has to
say. He may have done it in ignorance; or, it is just possible, he may have
the right.'

'Quite true. He may have the right to cut down trees at Bartram-Haugh. At
all events, I am sure he thinks he has,' I echoed.

The fact was, that I would not avow to myself a suspicion of Uncle Silas.
Any falsehood there opened an abyss beneath my feet into which I dared not
look.

'And now, dear girls, good-night. You must be tired. We breakfast at a
quarter past nine--not too early for you, I know.'

And so saying, she kissed us, smiling, and was gone.

I was so unpleasantly occupied, for some time after her departure, with the
knaveries said to be practised among the dense cover of the Windmill Wood,
that I did not immediately recollect that we had omitted to ask her any
particulars about her guests.

'Who can Mary be?' asked Milly.

'Cousin Monica says she's engaged to be married, and I think I heard the
Doctor call her _Lady_ Mary, and I intended asking her ever so much about
her; but what she told us about cutting down the trees, and all that, quite
put it out of my head. We shall have time enough to-morrow, however, to ask
questions. I like her very much, I know.'

'And I think,' said Milly, 'it is to Mr. Carysbroke she's to be married.'

'Do you?' said I, remembering that he had sat beside her for more than a
quarter of an hour after tea in very close and low-toned conversation; 'and
have you any particular reason?' I asked.

'Well, I heard her once or twice call him "dear," and she called him his
Christian name, just like Lady Knollys did--Ilbury, I think--and I saw him
gi' her a sly kiss as she was going up-stairs.'

I laughed.

'Well, Milly,' I said, 'I remarked something myself, I thought, like
confidential relations; but if you really saw them kiss on the staircase,
the question is pretty well settled.'

'Ay, lass.'

'You're not to say _lass_.'

'Well, _Maud, then_. I did see them with the corner of my eye, and my back
turned, when they did not think I could spy anything, as plain as I see you
now.'

I laughed again; but I felt an odd pang--something of
mortification--something of regret; but I smiled very gaily, as I stood
before the glass, un-making my toilet preparatory to bed.

'Maud--Maud--fickle Maud!--What, Captain Oakley already superseded! and Mr.
Carysbroke--oh! humiliation--engaged.' So I smiled on, very much vexed;
and being afraid lest I had listened with too apparent an interest to this
impostor, I sang a verse of a gay little chanson, and tried to think of
Captain Oakley, who somehow had become rather silly.




CHAPTER XLIII

_NEWS AT BARTRAM GATE_


Milly and I, thanks to our early Bartram hours, were first down next
morning; and so soon as Cousin Monica appeared we attacked her.

'So Lady Mary is the _fiancée_ of Mr. Carysbroke,' said I, very cleverly;
'and I think it was very wicked of you to try and involve me in a
flirtation with him yesterday.'

'And who told you that, pray?' asked Lady Knollys, with a pleasant little
laugh.

'Milly and I discovered it, simple as we stand here,' I answered.

'But you did not flirt with Mr. Carysbroke, Maud, did you?' she asked.

'No, certainly not; but that was not your doing, wicked woman, but my
discretion. And now that we know your secret, you must tell us all about
her, and all about him; and in the first place, what is her name--Lady Mary
what?' I demanded.

'Who would have thought you so cunning? Two country misses--two little nuns
from the cloisters of Bartram! Well, I suppose I must answer. It is vain
trying to hide anything from you; but how on earth did you find it out?'

'We'll tell you that presently, but you shall first tell us who she is,' I
persisted.

'Well, that I will, of course, without compulsion. She is Lady Mary
Carysbroke,' said Lady Knollys.

'A relation of Mr. Carysbroke's,' I asserted.

'Yes, a relation; but who told you he was Mr. Carysbroke?' asked Cousin
Monica.

'Milly told me, when we saw him in the Windmill Wood.'

'And who told you, Milly?'

'It was L'Amour,' answered Milly, with her blue eyes very wide open.

'What does the child mean? L'Amour! You don't mean _love_?' exclaimed Lady
Knollys, puzzled in her turn.

'I mean old Wyat; _she_ told me and the Governor.'

'You're _not_ to say that,' I interposed.

'You mean your father?' suggested Lady Knollys.

'Well, yes; father told her, and so I knew him.'

'What could he mean?' exclaimed Lady Knollys, laughing, as it were, in
soliloquy; 'and I did not mention his name, I recollect now. He recognised
you, and you him, when you came into the room yesterday; and now you must
tell me how you discovered that he and Lady Mary were to be married.'

So Milly restated her evidence, and Lady Knollys laughed unaccountably
heartily; and she said--

'They _will_ be _so_ confounded! but they deserve it; and, remember, _I_
did not say so.'

'Oh! we acquit you.'

'All I say is, such a deceitful, dangerous pair of girls--all things
considered--I never heard of before,' exclaimed Lady Knollys. 'There's no
such thing as conspiring in your presence.'

'Good morning. I hope you slept well.' She was addressing the lady and
gentleman who were just entering the room from the conservatory. 'You'll
hardly sleep so well to-night, when you have learned what eyes are upon
you. Here are two very pretty detectives who have found out your secret,
and entirely by your imprudence and their own cleverness have discovered
that you are a pair of betrothed lovers, about to ratify your vows at
the hymeneal altar. I assure you I did not tell of you; you betrayed
yourselves. If you will talk in that confidential way on sofas, and call
one another stealthily by your Christian names, and actually kiss at the
foot of the stairs, while a clever detective is scaling them, apparently
with her back toward you, you must only take the consequences, and be known
prematurely as the hero and heroine of the forthcoming paragraph in the
"Morning Post."'

Milly and I were horribly confounded, but Cousin Monica was resolved to
place us all upon the least formal terms possible, and I believe she had
set about it in the right way.

'And now, girls, I am going to make a counter-discovery, which, I fear, a
little conflicts with yours. This Mr. Carysbroke is Lord Ilbury, brother
of this Lady Mary; and it is all my fault for not having done my honours
better; but you see what clever match-making little creatures they are.'

'You can't think how flattered I am at being made the subject of a theory,
even a mistaken one, by Miss Ruthyn.'

And so, after our modest fit was over, Milly and I were very merry, like
the rest, and we all grew a great deal more intimate that morning.

I think altogether those were the pleasantest and happiest days of my
life: gay, intelligent, and kindly society at home; charming
excursions--sometimes riding--sometimes by carriage--to distant points of
beauty in the county. Evenings varied with music, reading, and spirited
conversation. Now and then a visitor for a day or two, and constantly some
neighbour from the town, or its dependencies, dropt in. Of these I but
remember tall old Miss Wintletop, most entertaining of rustic old
maids, with her nice lace and thick satin, and her small, kindly round
face--pretty, I dare say, in other days, and now frosty, but kindly--who
told us such delightful old stories of the county in her father's and
grandfather's time; who knew the lineage of every family in it, and could
recount all its duels and elopements; give us illustrative snatches from
old election squibs, and lines from epitaphs, and tell exactly where all
the old-world highway robberies had been committed: how it fared with the
chief delinquents after the assizes; and, above all, where, and of what
sort, the goblins and elves of the county had made themselves seen, from
the phantom post-boy, who every third night crossed Windale Moor, by the
old coach-road, to the fat old ghost, in mulberry velvet, who showed his
great face, crutch, and ruffles, by moonlight, at the bow window of the old
court-house that was taken down in 1803.

You cannot imagine what agreeable evenings we passed in this society,
or how rapidly my good Cousin Milly improved in it. I remember well the
intense suspense in which she and I awaited the answer from Bartram-Haugh
to kind Cousin Monica's application for an extension of our leave of
absence.

It came, and with it a note from Uncle Silas, which was curious, and,
therefore, is printed here:--

'MY DEAR LADY KNOLLYS,--To your kind letter I say yes (that is, for another
week, not a fortnight), with all my heart. I am glad to hear that my
starlings chatter so pleasantly; at all events the refrain is not that of
Sterne's. They can get out; and do get out; and shall get out as much as
they please. I am no gaoler, and shut up nobody but myself. I have always
thought that young people have too little liberty. My principle has been
to make little free men and women of them from the first. In morals,
altogether--in intellect, more than we allow--_self_-education is that
which abides; and _it_ only begins where constraint ends. Such is my
theory. My practice is consistent. Let them remain for a week longer, as
you say. The horses shall be at Elverston on Tuesday, the 7th. I shall be
more than usually sad and solitary till their return; so pray, I selfishly
entreat, do not extend their absence. You will smile, remembering how
little my health will allow me to see of them, even when at home; but as
Chaulieu so prettily says--I stupidly forget the words, but the sentiment
is this--"although concealed by a sylvan wall of leaves, impenetrable--(he
is pursuing his favourite nymphs through the alleys and intricacies of a
rustic labyrinth)--yet, your songs, your prattle, and your laughter, faint
and far away, inspire my fancy; and, through my ears, I see your unseen
smiles, your blushes, your floating tresses, and your ivory feet; and so,
though sad, am happy; though alone, in company;"--and such is my case.

'One only request, and I have done. Pray remind them of a promise made to
me. The Book of Life--the fountain of life--it must be drunk of, night and
morning, or their spiritual life expires.

'And now, Heaven bless and keep you, my dear cousin; and with all
assurances of affection to my beloved niece and my child, believe me ever
yours affectionately.

'SILAS RUTHYN.'

Said Cousin Monica, with a waggish smile--

'And so, girls, you have Chaulieu and the evangelists; the French rhymester
in his alley, and Silas in the valley of the shadow of death; perfect
liberty, and a peremptory order to return in a week;--all illustrating one
another. Poor Silas! old as he is, I don't think his religion fits him.'

_I_ really rather liked his letter. I was struggling hard to think well of
him, and Cousin Monica knew it; and I really think if I had not been by,
she would often have been less severe on him.

As we were all sitting pleasantly about the breakfast table a day or two
after, the sun shining on the pleasant wintry landscape, Cousin Monica
suddenly exclaimed--

'I quite forgot to tell you that Charles Oakley has written to say he is
coming on Wednesday. I really don't want him. Poor Charlie! I wonder how
they manage those doctors' certificates. I know nothing ails him, and he'd
be much better with his regiment.'

Wednesday!--how odd. Exactly the day after my departure. I tried to look
perfectly unconcerned. Lady Knollys had addressed herself more to Lady
Mary and Milly than to me, and nobody in particular was looking at me.
Notwithstanding, with my usual perversity, I felt myself blushing with a
brilliancy that may have been very becoming, but which was so intolerably
provoking that I would have risen and left the room but that matters would
have been so infinitely worse. I could have boxed my odious ears. I could
almost have jumped from the window.

I felt that Lord Ilbury saw it. I saw Lady Mary's eyes for a moment resting
gravely on my tell-tale--my lying cheeks--for I really had begun to think
much less celestially of Captain Oakley. I was angry with Cousin Monica,
who, knowing my blushing infirmity, had mentioned her nephew so suddenly
while I was strapped by etiquette in my chair, with my face to the window,
and two pair of most disconcerting eyes, at least, opposite. I was angry
with myself--generally angry--refused more tea rather dryly, and was
laconic to Lord Ilbury, all which, of course, was very cross and foolish;
and afterwards, from my bed-room window, I saw Cousin Monica and Lady
Mary among the flowers, under the drawing-room window, talking, as I
instinctively knew, of that little incident. I was standing at the glass.

'My odious, stupid, _perjured_ face' I whispered, furiously, at the same
time stamping on the floor, and giving myself quite a smart slap on the
cheek. 'I _can't_ go down--I'm ready to cry--I've a mind to return to
Bartram to-day; I am _always_ blushing; and I wish that impudent Captain
Oakley was at the bottom of the sea.'

I was, perhaps, thinking more of Lord Ilbury than I was aware; and I am
sure if Captain Oakley had arrived that day, I should have treated him with
most unjustifiable rudeness.

Notwithstanding this unfortunate blush, the remainder of our visit passed
very happily for me. No one who has not experienced it can have an idea
how intimate a small party, such as ours, will grow in a short time in a
country house.

Of course, a young lady of a well-regulated mind cannot possibly care a
pin about any one of the opposite sex until she is well assured that he is
beginning, at least, to like her better than all the world beside; but I
could not deny to myself that I was rather anxious to know more about Lord
Ilbury than I actually did know.

There was a 'Peerage,' in its bright scarlet and gold uniform, corpulent
and tempting, upon the little marble table in the drawing-room. I had many
opportunities of consulting it, but I never could find courage to do so.

For an inexperienced person it would have been a matter of several minutes,
and during those minutes what awful risk of surprise and detection. One
day, all being quiet, I did venture, and actually, with a beating heart,
got so far as to find out the letter 'Il,' when I heard a step outside the
door, which opened a little bit, and I heard Lady Knollys, luckily arrested
at the entrance, talk some sentences outside, her hand still upon the
door-handle. I shut the book, as Mrs. Bluebeard might the door of the
chamber of horrors at the sound of her husband's step, and skipped to a
remote part of the room, where Cousin Knollys found me in a mysterious
state of agitation.

On any other subject I would have questioned Cousin Monica unhesitatingly;
upon this, somehow, I was dumb. I distrusted myself, and dreaded my odious
habit of blushing, and knew that I should look so horribly guilty, and
become so agitated and odd, that she would have reasonably concluded that I
had quite lost my heart to him.

After the lesson I had received, and my narrow escape of detection in the
very act, you may be sure I never trusted myself in the vicinity of that
fat and cruel 'Peerage,' which possessed the secret, but would not disclose
without compromising me.

In this state of tantalizing darkness and conjecture I should have
departed, had not Cousin Monica quite spontaneously relieved me.

The night before our departure she sat with us in our room, chatting a
little farewell gossip.

'And what do you think of Ilbury?' she asked.

'I think him clever and accomplished, and amusing; but he sometimes appears
to me very melancholy--that is, for a few minutes together--and then, I
fancy, with an effort, re-engages in our conversation.'

'Yes, poor Ilbury! He lost his brother only about five months since, and
is only beginning to recover his spirits a little. They were very much
attached, and people thought that he would have succeeded to the title,
had he lived, because Ilbury is _difficile_--or a philosopher--or a _Saint
Kevin_; and, in fact, has begun to be treated as a premature old bachelor.'

'What a charming person his sister, Lady Mary, is. She has made me promise
to write to her,' I said, I suppose--such hypocrites are we--to prove to
Cousin Knollys that I did not care particularly to hear anything more about
him.

'Yes, and so devoted to him. He came down here, and took The Grange, for
change of scene and solitude--of all things the worst for a man in grief--a
morbid whim, as he is beginning to find out; for he is very glad to stay
here, and confesses that he is much better since he came. His letters are
still addressed to him as Mr. Carysbroke; for he fancied if his rank were
known, that the county people would have been calling upon him, and so he
would have found himself soon involved in a tiresome round of dinners, and
must have gone somewhere else. You saw him, Milly, at Bartram, before Maud
came?'

Yes, she had, when he called there to see her father.

'He thought, as he had accepted the trusteeship, that he could hardly,
residing so near, omit to visit Silas. He was very much struck and
interested by him, and he has a better opinion of him--you are not angry,
Milly--than some ill-natured people I could name; and he says that the
cutting down of the trees will turn out to have been a mere slip. But these
slips don't occur with clever men in other things; and some persons have
a way of always making them in their own favour. And, to talk of other
things, I suspect that you and Milly will probably see Ilbury at Bartram;
for I think he likes you very much.'

_You_; did she mean _both_, or only me?

So our pleasant visit was over. Milly's good little curate had been much
thrown in her way by our deep and dangerous cousin Monica. He was most
laudably steady; and his flirtation advanced upon the field of theology,
where, happily, Milly's little reading had been concentrated. A mild and
earnest interest in poor, pretty Milly's orthodoxy was the leading feature
of his case; and I was highly amused at her references to me, when we had
retired at night, upon the points which she had disputed with him, and
her anxious reports of their low-toned conferences, carried on upon a
sequestered ottoman, where he patted and stroked his crossed leg, as he
smiled tenderly and shook his head at her questionable doctrine. Milly's
reverence for her instructor, and his admiration, grew daily; and he was
known among us as Milly's confessor.

He took luncheon with us on the day of our departure, and with an adroit
privacy, which in a layman would have been sly, presented her, in right of
his holy calling, with a little book, the binding of which was mediaeval
and costly, and whose letter-press dealt in a way which he commended,
with some points on which she was not satisfactory; and she found on the
fly-leaf this little inscription:--'Presented to Miss Millicent Ruthyn by
an earnest well-wisher, 1st December 1844.' A text, very neatly penned,
followed this; and the 'presentation' was made unctiously indeed, but with
a blush, as well as the accustomed smile, and with eyes that were lowered.

The early crimson sun of December had gone down behind the hills before we
took our seats in the carriage.

Lord Ilbury leaned with his elbow on the carriage window, looking in, and
he said to me--

'I really don't know what we shall do, Miss Ruthyn; we shall all feel so
lonely. For myself, I think I shall run away to Grange.'

This appeared to me as nearly perfect eloquence as human lips could utter.

His hand still rested on the window, and the Rev. Sprigge Biddlepen was
standing with a saddened smirk on the door steps, when the whip smacked,
the horses scrambled into motion, and away we rolled down the avenue,
leaving behind us the pleasantest house and hostess in the world, and
trotting fleetly into darkness towards Bartram-Haugh.

We were both rather silent. Milly had her book in her lap, and I saw
her every now and then try to read her 'earnest well-wisher's' little
inscription, but there was not light to read by.

When we reached the great gate of Bartram-Haugh it was dark. Old Crowl, who
kept the gate, I heard enjoining the postilion to make no avoidable noise
at the hall-door, for the odd but startling reason that he believed my
uncle 'would be dead by this time.'

Very much shocked and frightened, we stopped the carriage, and questioned
the tremulous old porter.

Uncle Silas, it seemed, had been 'silly-ish' all yesterday, and 'could not
be woke this morning,' and 'the doctor had been here twice, being now in
the house.'

'Is he better?' I asked, tremblingly.

'Not as I'm aweer on, Miss; he lay at God's mercy two hours agone; 'appen
he's in heaven be this time.'

'Drive on--drive fast,' I said to the driver. 'Don't be frightened, Milly;
please Heaven we shall find all going well.'

After some delay, during which my heart sank, and I quite gave up Uncle
Silas, the aged little servant-man opened the door, and trotted shakily
down the steps to the carriage side.

Uncle Silas had been at death's door for hours; the question of life had
trembled in the scale; but now the doctor said 'he might do.'

'Where was the doctor?'

'In master's room; he blooded him three hours agone.'

I don't think that Milly was so frightened as I. My heart beat, and I was
trembling so that I could hardly get upstairs.




CHAPTER XLIV

_A FRIEND ARISES_


At the top of the great staircase I was glad to see the friendly face
of Mary Quince, who stood, candle in hand, greeting us with many little
courtesies, and a very haggard and pallid smile.

'Very welcome, Miss, hoping you are very well.'

'All well, and you are well, Mary? and oh! tell us quickly how is Uncle
Silas?'

'We thought he was gone, Miss, this morning, but doing fairly now; doctor
says in a trance like. I was helping old Wyat most of the day, and was
there when doctor blooded him, an' he spoke at last; but he must be awful
weak, he took a deal o' blood from his arm, Miss; I held the basin.'

'And he's better--decidedly better?' I asked.

'Well, he's better, doctor says; he talked some, and doctor says if he goes
off asleep again, and begins a-snoring like he did before, we're to loose
the bandage, and let him bleed till he comes to his self again; which, it
seems to me and Wyat, is the same thing a'most as saying he's to be killed
off-hand, for I don't believe he has a drop to spare, as you'll say
likewise, Miss, if you'll please look in the basin.'

This was not an invitation with which I cared to comply. I thought I was
going to faint. I sat on the stairs and sipped a little water, and Quince
sprinkled a little in my face, and my strength returned.

Milly must have felt her father's danger more than I, for she was
affectionate, and loved him from habit and relation, although he was not
kind to her. But I was more nervous and more impetuous, and my feelings
both stimulated and overpowered me more easily. The moment I was able to
stand I said--thinking of nothing but the one idea--

'We must see him--_come_, Milly.'

I entered his sitting-room; a common 'dip' candle hanging like the tower
of Pisa all to one side, with a dim, long wick, in a greasy candlestick,
profaned the table of the fastidious invalid. The light was little better
than darkness, and I crossed the room swiftly, still transfixed by the one
idea of seeing my uncle.

His bed-room door beside the fireplace stood partly open, and I looked in.

Old Wyat, a white, high-cauled ghost, was pottering in her slippers in the
shadow at the far side of the bed. The doctor, a stout little bald man,
with a paunch and a big bunch of seals, stood with his back to the
fireplace, which corresponded with that in the next room, eyeing his
patient through the curtains of the bed with a listless sort of importance.

The head of the large four-poster rested against the opposite wall. Its
foot was presented toward the fireplace; but the curtains at the side,
which alone I could see from my position, were closed.

The little doctor knew me, and thinking me, I suppose, a person of
consequence, removed his hands from behind him, suffering the skirts of his
coat to fall forward, and with great celerity and gravity made me a low but
important bow; then choosing more particularly to make my acquaintance
he further advanced, and with another reverence he introduced himself
as Doctor Jolks, in a murmured diapason. He bowed me back again into my
uncle's study, and the light of old Wyat's dreadful candle.

Doctor Jolks was suave and pompous. I longed for a fussy practitioner who
would have got over the ground in half the time.

Coma, madam; coma. Miss Ruthyn, your uncle, I may tell you, has been in a
very critical state; highly so. Coma of the most obstinate type. He would
have sunk--he must have gone, in fact, had I not resorted to a very extreme
remedy, and bled him freely, which happily told precisely as we could have
wished. A wonderful constitution--a marvellous constitution--prodigious
nervous fibre; the greatest pity in the world he won't give himself fair
play. His habits, you know, are quite, I may say, destructive. We do
our best--we do all we can, but if the patient won't cooperate it can't
possibly end satisfactorily.'

And Jolks accompanied this with an awful shrug. 'Is there _anything_? Do
you think change of air? What an awful complaint it is,' I exclaimed.

He smiled, mysteriously looking down, and shook his head undertaker-like.

'Why, we can hardly call it a _complaint_, Miss Ruthyn. I look upon it he
has been poisoned--he has had, you understand me,' he pursued, observing my
startled look, 'an overdose of opium; you know he takes opium habitually;
he takes it in laudanum, he takes it in water, and, most dangerous of all,
he takes it solid, in lozenges. I've known people take it moderately.
I've known people take it to excess, _but_ they all were particular as to
_measure,_ and _that_ is exactly the point I've tried to impress upon him.
The habit, of course, you understand is formed, there's no uprooting that;
but he won't _measure_--he goes by the eye and by sensation, which I need
not tell you, Miss Ruthyn, is going by _chance;_ and opium, as no doubt
you are aware, is strictly a poison; a poison, no doubt, which habit will
enable you to partake of, I may say, in considerable quantities, without
fatal consequences, but still a poison; and to exhibit a poison _so_, is,
I need scarcely tell you, to trifle with death. He has been so threatened,
and for a time he changes his haphazard mode of dealing with it, and then
returns; he may escape--of course, that is possible--but he may any day
overdo the thing. I don't think the present crisis will result seriously. I
am very glad, independently of the honour of making your acquaintance, Miss
Ruthyn, that you and your cousin have returned; for, however zealous, I
fear the servants are deficient in intelligence; and as in the event of a
recurrence of the symptoms--which, however, is not probable--I would beg to
inform you of their nature, and how exactly best to deal with them.'

So upon these points he delivered us a pompous little lecture, and begged
that either Milly or I would remain in the room with the patient until his
return at two or three o'clock in the morning; a reappearance of the coma
'might be very bad indeed.'

Of course Milly and I did as we were directed. We sat by the fire, scarcely
daring to whisper. Uncle Silas, about whom a new and dreadful suspicion
began to haunt me, lay still and motionless as if he were actually dead.

'Had he attempted to poison himself?'

If he believed his position to be as desperate as Lady Knollys had
described it, was this, after all, improbable? There were strange wild
theories, I had been told, mixed up in his religion.

Sometimes, at an hour's interval, a sign of life would come--a moan from
that tall sheeted figure in the bed--a moan and a pattering of the lips.
Was it prayer--_what_ was it? who could guess what thoughts were passing
behind that white-fillited forehead?

I had peeped at him: a white cloth steeped in vinegar and water was folded
round his head; his great eyes were closed, so were his marble lips; his
figure straight, thin, and long, dressed in a white dressing-gown, looked
like a corpse 'laid out' in the bed; his gaunt bandaged arm lay outside the
sheet that covered his body.

With this awful image of death we kept our vigil, until poor Milly grew so
sleepy that old Wyat proposed that she should take her place and watch with
me.

Little as I liked the crone with the high-cauled cap, she would, at all
events, keep awake, which Milly could not. And so at one o'clock this new
arrangement began.

'Mr. Dudley Ruthyn is not at home?' I whispered to old Wyat.

'He went away wi' himself yesternight, to Cloperton, Miss, to see the
wrestling; it was to come off this morning.'

'Was he sent for?'

'Not he.'

'And why not?'

'He would na' leave the sport for this, I'm thinking,' and the old woman
grinned uglily.

'When is he to return?'

'When he wants money.'

So we grew silent, and again I thought of suicide, and of the unhappy old
man, who just then whispered a sentence or two to himself with a sigh.

For the next hour he had been quite silent, and old Wyat informed me that
she must go down for candles. Ours were already burnt down to the sockets.

'There's a candle in the next room,' I suggested, hating the idea of being
left alone with the patient.

'Hoot! Miss. I _dare_ na' set a candle but wax in his presence,' whispered
the old woman, scornfully.

'I think if we were to stir the fire, and put on a little more coal, we
should have a great deal of light.'

'He'll ha' the candles,' said Dame Wyat, doggedly; and she tottered from
the chamber, muttering to herself; and I heard her take her candle from the
next room and depart, shutting the outer door after her.

Here was I then alone, but for this unearthly companion, whom I feared
inexpressibly, at two o'clock, in the vast old house of Bartram.

I stirred the fire. It was low, and would not blaze. I stood up, and, with
my hand on the mantelpiece, endeavoured to think of cheerful things. But
it was a struggle against wind and tide--vain; and so I drifted away into
haunted regions.

Uncle Silas was perfectly still. I would not suffer myself to think of the
number of dark rooms and passages which now separated me from the other
living tenants of the house. I awaited with a false composure the return of
old Wyat.

Over the mantelpiece was a looking-glass. At another time this might have
helped to entertain my solitary moments, but now I did not like to venture
a peep. A small thick Bible lay on the chimneypiece, and leaning its back
against the mirror, I began to read in it with a mind as attentively
directed as I could. While so engaged in turning over the leaves, I lighted
upon two or three odd-looking papers, which had been folded into it. One
was a broad printed thing, with names and dates written into blank spaces,
and was about the size of a quarter of a yard of very broad ribbon. The
others were mere scraps, with 'Dudley Ruthyn' penned in my cousin's vulgar
round-hand at the foot. While I folded and replaced these, I really don't
know what caused me to fancy that something was moving behind me, as I
stood with my back toward the bed. I do not recollect any sound whatever;
but instinctively I glanced into the mirror, and my eyes were instantly
fixed by what I saw.

The figure of Uncle Silas rose up, and dressed in a long white morning
gown, slid over the end of the bed, and with two or three swift
noiseless steps, stood behind me, with a death-like scowl and a simper.
Preternaturally tall and thin, he stood for a moment almost touching me,
with the white bandage pinned across his forehead, his bandaged arm stiffly
by his side, and diving over my shoulder, with his long thin hand he
snatched the Bible, and whispered over my head--'The serpent beguiled her
and she did eat;' and after a momentary pause, he glided to the farthest
window, and appeared to look out upon the midnight prospect.

It was cold, but he did not seem to feel it. With the same inflexible scowl
and smile, he continued to look out for several minutes, and then with a
great sigh, he sat down on the side of his bed, his face immovably turned
towards me, with the same painful look.

It seemed to me an hour before old Wyat came back; and never was lover made
happier at sight of his mistress than I to behold that withered crone.

You may be sure I did not prolong my watch. There was now plainly no risk
of my uncle's relapsing into lethargy. I had a long hysterical fit of
weeping when I got into my room, with honest Mary Quince by my side.

Whenever I closed my eyes, the face of Uncle Silas was before me, as I had
seen it reflected in the glass. The sorceries of Bartram were enveloping me
once more.

Next morning the doctor said he was quite out of danger, but very weak.
Milly and I saw him; and again in our afternoon walk we saw the doctor
marching under the trees in the direction of the Windmill Wood.

'Going down to see that poor girl there?' he said, when he had made his
salutation, prodding with his levelled stick in the direction. 'Hawke, or
Hawkes, I think.'

'Beauty's sick, Maud,' exclaimed Milly.

'_Hawkes_. She's upon my dispensary list. Yes,' said the doctor, looking
into his little note-book--'Hawkes.'

'And what is her complaint?'

'Rheumatic fever.'

'Not infectious?'

'Not the least--no more, as we say, Miss Ruthyn, than a broken leg,' and he
laughed obligingly.

So soon as the doctor had departed, Milly and I agreed to follow to Hawkes'
cottage and enquire more particularly how she was. To say truth, I am
afraid it was rather for the sake of giving our walk a purpose and a point
of termination, than for any very charitable interest we might have felt in
the patient.

Over the inequalities of the upland slope, clumped with trees, we reached
the gabled cottage, with its neglected little farm-yard. A rheumatic old
woman was the only attendant; and, having turned her ear in an attitude of
attention, which induced us in gradually exalted keys to enquire how Meg
was, she informed us in very loud tones that she had long lost her hearing
and was perfectly deaf. And added considerately--

'When the man comes in, 'appen he'll tell ye what ye want.'

Through the door of a small room at the further end of that in which we
were, we could see a portion of the narrow apartment of the patient, and
hear her moans and the doctor's voice.

'We'll see him, Milly, when he comes out. Let us wait here.'

So we stood upon the door-stone awaiting him. The sounds of suffering had
moved my compassion and interested us for the sick girl.

'Blest if here isn't Pegtop,' said Milly.

And the weather-stained red coat, the swarthy forbidding face and sooty
locks of old Hawkes loomed in sight, as he stumped, steadying himself with
his stick, over the uneven pavement of the yard. He touched his hat gruffly
to me, but did not seem half to like our being where we were, for he looked
surlily, and scratched his head under his wide-awake.

'Your daughter is very ill, I'm afraid,' said I.

'Ay--she'll be costin' me a handful, like her mother did,' said Pegtop.

'I hope her room is comfortable, poor thing.'

'Ay, that's it; she be comfortable enough, I warrant--more nor I. It be all
Meg, and nout o' Dickon.'

'When did her illness commence?' I asked.

'Day the mare wor shod--_Saturday_. I talked a bit wi' the workus folk, but
they won't gi'e nout--dang 'em--an' how be _I_ to do't? It be all'ays hard
bread wi' Silas, an' a deal harder now she' ta'en them pains. I won't stan'
it much longer. Gammon! If she keeps on that way I'll just cut. See how the
workus fellahs 'ill like _that_!'

'The Doctor gives his services for nothing,' I said.

'An' _does_ nothin', bless him! ha, ha. No more nor that old deaf gammon
there that costs me three tizzies a week, and haint worth a h'porth--no
more nor Meg there, that's making all she can o' them pains. They be all a
foolin' o' me, an' thinks I don't know't. Hey? _we_'ll see.'

All this time he was cutting a bit of tobacco into shreds on the
window-stone.

'A workin' man be same as a hoss; if he baint cared, he can't work--'tisn't
in him:' and with these words, having by this time stuffed his pipe with
tobacco, he poked the deaf lady, who was pattering about with her back
toward him, rather viciously with the point of his stick, and signed for a
light.

'It baint in him, you can't get it out o' 'im, no more nor ye'll draw smoke
out o' this,' and he raised his pipe an inch or two, with his thumb on the
bowl, 'without backy and fire. 'Tisn't in it.'

'Maybe I can be of some use?' I said, thinking.

'Maybe,' he rejoined.

By this time he received from the old deaf abigail a flaming roll of brown
paper, and, touching his hat to me, he withdrew, lighting his pipe and
sending up little white puffs, like the salute of a departing ship.

So he did not care to hear how his daughter was, and had only come here to
light his pipe!

Just then the Doctor emerged.

'We have been waiting to hear how your poor patient is to-day?' I said.

'Very ill, indeed, and utterly neglected, I fear. If she were equal
to it--but she's not--I think she ought to be removed to the hospital
immediately.'

'That poor old woman is quite deaf, and the man is so surly and selfish!
Could you recommend a nurse who would stay here till she's better? I will
pay her with pleasure, and anything you think might be good for the poor
girl.'

So this was settled on the spot. Doctor Jolks was kind, like most men
of his calling, and undertook to send the nurse from Feltram with a few
comforts for the patient; and he called Dickon to the yard-gate, and I
suppose told him of the arrangement; and Milly and I went to the poor
girl's door and asked, 'May we come in?'

There was no answer. So, with the conventional construction of silence, we
entered. Her looks showed how ill she was. We adjusted her bed-clothes, and
darkened the room, and did what we could for her--noting, beside, what her
comfort chiefly required. She did not answer any questions. She did not
thank us. I should almost have fancied that she had not perceived our
presence, had I not observed her dark, sunken eyes once or twice turned up
towards my face, with a dismal look of wonder and enquiry.

The girl was very ill, and we went every day to see her. Sometimes she
would answer our questions--sometimes not. Thoughtful, observant, surly,
she seemed; and as people like to be thanked, I sometimes wonder that
we continued to throw our bread upon these ungrateful waters. Milly was
specially impatient under this treatment, and protested against it, and
finally refused to accompany me into poor Beauty's bed-room.

'I think, my good Meg,' said I one day, as I stood by her bed--she was now
recovering with the sure reascent of youth--'that you ought to thank Miss
Milly.'

'I'll _not_ thank her,' said Beauty, doggedly.

'Very well, Meg; I only thought I'd ask you, for I think you ought.'

As I spoke, she very gently took just the tip of my finger, which hung
close to her coverlet, in her fingers, and drew it beneath, and before I
was aware, burying her head in the clothes, she suddenly clasped my hand
in both hers to her lips, and kissed it passionately, again and again,
sobbing. I felt her tears.

I tried to withdraw my hand, but she held it with an angry pull, continuing
to weep and kiss it.

'Do you wish to say anything, my poor Meg?' I asked.

'Nout, Miss,' she sobbed gently; and she continued to kiss my hand and
weep. But suddenly she said, 'I won't thank Milly, for it's a' _you_; it
baint her, she hadn't the thought--no, no, it's a' you, Miss. I cried
hearty in the dark last night, thinkin' o' the apples, and the way I
knocked them awa' wi' a pur o' my foot, the day father rapped me ower the
head wi' his stick; it was kind o' you and very bad o' me. I wish you'd
beat me, Miss; ye're better to me than father or mother--better to me than
a'; an' I wish I could die for you, Miss, for I'm not fit to look at you.'

I was surprised. I began to cry. I could have hugged poor Meg.

I did not know her history. I have never learned it since. She used to
talk with the most utter self-abasement before me. It was no religious
feeling--it was a kind of expression of her love and worship of me--all the
more strange that she was naturally very proud. There was nothing she
would not have borne from me except the slightest suspicion of her entire
devotion, or that she could in the most trifling way wrong or deceive me.

I am not young now. I have had my sorrows, and with them all that wealth,
virtually unlimited, can command; and through the retrospect a few bright
and pure lights quiver along my life's dark stream--dark, but for them; and
these are shed, not by the splendour of a splendid fortune, but by two or
three of the simplest and kindest remembrances, such as the poorest and
homeliest life may count up, and beside which, in the quiet hours of
memory, all artificial triumphs pale, and disappear, for they are never
quenched by time or distance, being founded on the affections, and so far
heavenly.




CHAPTER XLV

_A CHAPTER-FULL OF LOVERS_


We had about this time a pleasant and quite unexpected visit from Lord
Ilbury. He had come to pay his respects, understanding that my uncle Silas
was sufficiently recovered to see visitors. 'And I think I'll run up-stairs
first, and see him, if he admits me, and then I have ever so long a message
from my sister, Mary, for you and Miss Millicent; but I had better dispose
of my business first--don't you think so?--and I shall return in a few
minutes.'

And as he spoke our tremulous old butler returned to say that Uncle Silas
would be happy to see him. So he departed; and you can't think how pleasant
our homely sitting-room looked with his coat and stick in it--guarantees of
his return.

'Do you think, Milly, he is going to speak about the timber, you know, that
Cousin Knollys spoke of? I do hope not.'

'So do I,' said Milly. 'I wish he'd stayed a bit longer with us first, for
if he does, father will sure to turn him out of doors, and we'll see no
more of him.'

'Exactly, my dear Milly; and he's so pleasant and good-natured.'

'And he likes you awful well, he does.'

'I'm sure he likes us both equally, Milly; he talked a great deal to you at
Elverston, and used to ask you so often to sing those two pretty Lancashire
ballads,' I said; 'but you know when you were at your controversies and
religious exercises in the window, with that pillar of the church, the Rev.
Spriggs Biddlepen--'

'Get awa' wi' your nonsense, Maud; how could I help answering when he
dodged me up and down my Testament and catechism?--an I 'most hate him, I
tell you, and Cousin Knollys, you're such fools, I do. And whatever you
say, the lord likes you uncommon, and well you know it, ye hussy.'

'I know no such thing; and you don't think it, _you_ hussy, and I really
don't care who likes me or who doesn't, except my relations; and I make the
lord a present to you, if you'll have him.'

In this strain were we talking when he re-entered the room, a little sooner
than we had expected to see him.

Milly, who, you are to recollect, was only in process of reformation, and
still retained something of the Derbyshire dairymaid, gave me a little
clandestine pinch on the arm just as he made his appearance.

'I just refused a present from her,' said odious Milly, in answer to his
enquiring look, 'because I knew she could not spare it.'

The effect of all this was that I blushed one of my overpowering blushes.
People told me they became me very much; I hope so, for the misfortune was
frequent; and I think nature owed me that compensation.

'It places you both in a most becoming light,' said Lord Ilbury, quite
innocently. 'I really don't know which most to admire--the generosity of
the offer or of the refusal.'

'Well, it _was_ kind, if you but knew. I'm 'most tempted to tell him,' said
Milly.

I checked her with a really angry look, and said, 'Perhaps you have not
observed it; but I really think, for a sensible person, my cousin Milly
here talks more nonsense than any twenty other girls.'

'A twenty-girl power! That's an immense compliment. I've the greatest
respect for nonsense, I owe it so much; and I really think if nonsense were
banished, the earth would grow insupportable.'

'Thank you, Lord Ilbury,' said Milly, who had grown quite easy in his
company during our long visit at Elverston; 'and I tell you, Miss Maud, if
you grow saucy, I'll accept your present, and what will you say then?'

'I really don't know; but just now I want to ask Lord Ilbury how he thinks
my uncle looks; neither I nor Milly have seen him since his illness.'

'Very much weaker, I think; but he may be gaining strength. Still, as my
business was not quite pleasant, I thought it better to postpone it, and
if you think it would be right, I'll write to Doctor Bryerly to ask him to
postpone the discussion for a little time.'

I at once assented, and thanked him; indeed, if I had had my way, the
subject should never have been mentioned, I felt so hardhearted and
rapacious; but Lord Ilbury explained that the trustees were constrained by
the provisions of the will, and that I really had no power to release them;
and I hoped that Uncle Silas also understood all this.

'And now,' said he, 'we've returned to Grange, my sister and I, and it is
nearer than Elverston, so that we are really neighbours; and Mary wants
Lady Knollys to fix a time she owes us a visit, you know--and you really
must come at the same time; it will be so very pleasant, the same party
exactly meeting in a new scene; and we have not half explored our
neighbourhood; and I've got down all those Spanish engravings I told you
of, and the Venetian missals, and all the rest. I think I remember very
accurately the things you were most interested by, and they're all there;
and really you must promise, you and Miss Millicent Ruthyn. And I forgot to
mention--you know you complained that you were ill supplied with books,
so Mary thought you would allow her to share her supply--they are the new
books, you know--and when you have read yours, you and she can exchange.'

What girl was ever quite frank about her likings? I don't think I was more
of a cheat than others; but I never could tell of myself. It is quite true
that this duplicity and reserve seldom deceives. Our hypocrisies are forced
upon some of our sex by the acuteness and vigilance of all in this field of
enquiry; but if we are sly, we are also lynx-eyed, capital detectives, most
ingenious in fitting together the bits and dovetails of a cumulative case;
and in those affairs of love and liking, have a terrible exploratory
instinct, and so, for the most part, when detected we are found out not
only to be in love, but to be rogues moreover.

Lady Mary was very kind; but had Lady Mary of her own mere motion taken all
this trouble? Was there no more energetic influence at the bottom of
that welcome chest of books, which arrived only half an hour later? The
circulating library of those days was not the epidemic and ubiquitous
influence to which it has grown; and there were many places where it could
not find you out.

Altogether that evening Bartram had acquired a peculiar beauty--a bright
and mellow glow, in which even its gate-posts and wheelbarrow were
interesting, and next day came a little cloud--Dudley appeared.

'You may be sure he wants money,' said Milly. 'He and father had words this
morning.'

He took a chair at our luncheon, found fault with everything in his own
laconic dialect, ate a good deal notwithstanding, and was sulky, and with
Milly snappish. To me, on the contrary, when Milly went into the hall, he
was mild and whimpering, and disposed to be confidential.

'There's the Governor says he hasn't a bob! Danged if I know how an old
fellah in his bed-room muddles away money at that rate. I don't suppose he
thinks I can git along without tin, and he knows them trustees won't gi'e
me a tizzy till they get what they calls an opinion--dang 'em! Bryerly says
he doubts it must all go under settlement. They'll settle me nicely if
they do; and Governor knows all about it, and won't gi'e me a danged brass
farthin', an' me wi' bills to pay, an' lawyers--dang 'em--writing
letters. He knows summat o' that hisself, does Governor; and he might ha'
consideration a bit for his own flesh and blood, _I_ say. But he never does
nout for none but hisself. I'll sell his books and his jewels next fit he
takes--that's how I'll fit him.'

This amiable young man, glowering, with his elbows on the table and his
fingers in his great whiskers, followed his homily, where clergymen append
the blessing, with a muttered variety of very different matter.

'Now, Maud,' said he, pathetically, leaning back suddenly in his chair,
with all his conscious beauty and misfortunes in his face, 'is not it hard
lines?'

I thought the appeal was going to shape itself into an application for
money; but it did not.

'I never know'd a reel beauty--first-chop, of course, I mean--that
wasn't kind along of it, and I'm a fellah as can't git along without
sympathy--that's why I say it--an' isn't it hard lines? Now, _say_ it's
hard lines--_haint_ it, Maud?'

I did not know exactly what hard lines meant, but I said--

'I suppose it is very disagreeable.'

And with this concession, not caring to hear any more in the same vein, I
rose, intending to take my departure.

'No, that's jest it. I knew ye'd say it, Maud. Ye're a kind lass--ye
be--'tis in yer pretty face. I like ye awful, I do--there's not a handsomer
lass in Liverpool nor Lunnon itself--_no_ where.'

He had seized my hand, and trying to place his arm about my waist, essayed
that salute which I had so narrowly escaped on my first introduction.

'_Don't_, sir,' I exclaimed in high indignation, escaping at the same
moment from his grasp.

'No offence, lass; no harm, Maud; you must not be so shy--we're cousins,
you know--an' I wouldn't hurt ye, Maud, no more nor I'd knock my head off.
I wouldn't.'

I did not wait to hear the rest of his tender protestations, but, without
showing how nervous I was, I glided out of the room quietly, making
an orderly retreat, the more meritorious as I heard him call after me
persuasively--'Come back, Maud. What are ye afeard on, lass? Come back, I
say--do now; there's a good wench.'

As Milly and I were taking our walk that day, in the direction of the
Windmill Wood, to which, in consequence perhaps of some secret order, we
had now free access, we saw Beauty, for the first time since her illness,
in the little yard, throwing grain to the poultry.

'How do you find yourself to-day, Meg? I am _very_ glad to see you able to
be about again; but I hope it is not too soon.'

We were standing at the barred gate of the little enclosure, and quite
close to Meg, who, however, did not choose to raise her head, but,
continuing to shower her grain and potato-skins among her hens and
chickens, said in a low tone--

'Father baint in sight? Look jist round a bit and say if ye see him.'

But Dickon's dusky red costume was nowhere visible.

So Meg looked up, pale and thin, and with her old grave, observant eyes,
and she said quietly--

''Tisn't that I'm not glad to see ye; but if father was to spy me talking
friendly wi' ye, now that I'm hearty, and you havin' no more call to me,
he'd be all'ays a watching and thinkin' I was tellin' o' tales, and 'appen
he'd want me to worrit ye for money, Miss Maud; an' 'tisn't here he'd spend
it, but in the Feltram pottusses, he would, and we want for nothin' that's
good for us. But that's how 'twould be, an' he'd all'ays be a jawing and a
lickin' of I; so don't mind me, Miss Maud, and 'appen I might do ye a good
turn some day.'

A few days after this little interview with Meg, as Milly and I were
walking briskly--for it was a clear frosty day--along the pleasant slopes
of the sheep-walk, we were overtaken by Dudley Ruthyn. It was not a
pleasant surprise. There was this mitigation, however: we were on foot, and
he driving in a dog-cart along the track leading to the moor, with his dogs
and gun. He brought his horse for a moment to a walk, and with a careless
nod to me, removing his short pipe from his mouth, he said--

'Governor's callin' for ye, Milly; and he told me to send you slick home to
him if I saw you, and I think he'll gi'e ye some money; but ye better take
him while he's in the humour, lass, or mayhap ye'll go long without.'

And with those words, apparently intent on his game, he nodded again,
and, pipe in mouth, drove at a quick trot over the slope of the hill, and
disappeared.

So I agreed to await Milly's return while she ran home, and rejoined me
where I was. Away she ran, in high spirits, and I wandered listlessly about
in search of some convenient spot to sit down upon, for I was a little
tired.

She had not been gone five minutes, when I heard a step approaching, and
looking round, saw the dog-cart close by, the horse browsing on the short
grass, and Dudley Ruthyn within a few paces of me.

'Ye see, Maud, I've bin thinkin' why you're so vexed wi' me, an' I thought
I'd jest come back an' ask ye what I may a' done to anger ye so; there's no
sin in that, I think--is there?'

'I'm not angry. I did not say so. I hope that's enough,' I said, startled;
and, notwithstanding my speech, _very_ angry, for I felt instinctively that
Milly's despatch homeward was a mere trick, and I the dupe of this coarse
stratagem.

'Well then, if ye baint angry, so much the better, Maud. I only want to
know why you're afeard o' me. I never struck a man foul, much less hurt a
girl, in my days; besides, Maud, I likes ye too well to hurt ye. Dang it,
lass, you're my cousin, ye know, and cousins is all'ays together and lovin'
like, an' none says again' it.'

'I've nothing to explain--there _is_ nothing to explain. I've been quite
friendly,' I said, hurriedly.

'_Friendly!_ Well, if there baint a cram! How can ye think it friendly,
Maud, when ye won't a'most shake hands wi' me? It's enough to make a fellah
sware, or cry a'most. Why d'ye like aggravatin' a poor devil? Now baint
ye an ill-natured little puss, Maud, an' I likin' ye so well? You're the
prettiest lass in Derbyshire; there's nothin' I wouldn't do for ye.'

And he backed his declaration with an oath.

'Be so good, then, as to re-enter your dog-cart and drive away,' I replied,
very much incensed.

'Now, there it is again! Ye can't speak me civil. Another fellah'd fly out,
an' maybe kiss ye for spite; but I baint that sort, I'm all for coaxin' and
kindness, an' ye won't let me. What _be_ you drivin' at, Maud?'

'I think I've said very plainly, sir, that I wish to be alone. You've
_nothing_ to say, except utter nonsense, and I've heard quite enough. Once
for all, I beg, sir, that you will be so good as to leave me.'

'Well, now, look here, Maud; I'll do anything you like--burn me if I
don't--if you'll only jest be kind to me, like cousins should. What did
I ever do to vex you? If you think I like any lass better than you--some
fellah at Elverston's bin talkin', maybe--it's nout but lies an' nonsense.
Not but there's lots o' wenches likes me well enough, though I be a plain
lad, and speaks my mind straight out.'

'I can't see that you are so frank, sir, as you describe; you have just
played a shabby trick to bring about this absurd and most disagreeable
interview.'

'And supposin' I did send that fool, Milly, out o' the way, to talk a bit
wi' you here, where's the harm? Dang it, lass, ye mustn't be too hard.
Didn't I say I'd do whatever ye wished?'

'And you _won't_,' said I.

'Ye mean to get along out o' this? Well, now, I _will_. There! No use, of
course, askin' you to kiss and be friends, before I go, as cousins should.
Well, don't be riled, lass, I'm not askin' it; only mind, I do like you
awful, and 'appen I'll find ye in better humour another time. Good-bye,
Maud; I'll make ye like me at last.'

And with these words, to my comfort, he addressed himself to his horse and
pipe, and was soon honestly on his way to the moor.




CHAPTER XLVI

_THE RIVALS_


All the time that Dudley chose to persecute me with his odious society, I
continued to walk at a brisk pace toward home, so that I had nearly reached
the house when Milly met me, with a note which had arrived for me by the
post, in her hand.

'Here, Milly, are more verses. He is a very persevering poet, whoever he
is.' So I broke the seal; but this time it was prose. And the first words
were 'Captain Oakley!'

I confess to an odd sensation as these remarkable words met my eye. It
might possibly be a proposal. I did not wait to speculate, however, but
read these sentences traced in the identical handwriting which had copied
the lines with which I had been twice favoured.

'Captain Oakley presents his compliments to Miss Ruthyn, and trusts she
will excuse his venturing to ask whether, during his short stay in Feltram,
he might be permitted to pay his respects at Bartram-Haugh. He has been
making a short visit to his aunt, and could not find himself so near
without at least attempting to renew an acquaintance which he has never
ceased to cherish in memory. If Miss Ruthyn would be so very good as to
favour him with ever so short a reply to the question he ventures most
respectfully to ask, her decision would reach him at the Hall Hotel,
Feltram.'

'Well, he's a roundabout fellah, anyhow. Couldn't he come up and see you if
he wanted to? They poeters, they do love writing long yarns--don't they?'
And with this reflection, Milly took the note and read it through again.

'It's jolly polite anyhow, isn't it Maud?' said Milly, who had conned it
over, and accepted it as a model composition.

I must have been, I think, naturally a rather shrewd girl; and considering
how very little I had seen of the world--nothing in fact--I often wonder
now at the sage conclusions at which I arrived.

Were I to answer this handsome and cunning fool according to his folly,
in what position should I find myself? No doubt my reply would induce
a rejoinder, and that compel another note from me, and that invite yet
another from him; and however his might improve in warmth, they were sure
not to abate. Was it his impertinent plan, with this show of respect and
ceremony, to drag me into a clandestine correspondence? Inexperienced girl
as I was, I fired at the idea of becoming his dupe, and fancying, perhaps,
that there was more in merely answering his note than it would have
amounted to, I said--

'That kind of thing may answer very well with button-makers, but ladies
don't like it. What would your papa think of it if he found that I had been
writing to him, and seeing him without his permission? If he wanted to
see me he could have'--(I really did not know exactly what he could have
done)--'he could have timed his visit to Lady Knollys differently; at all
events, he has no right to place me in an embarrassing situation, and I am
certain Cousin Knollys would say so; and I think his note both shabby and
impertinent.'

Decision was not with me an intellectual process. When quite cool I was the
most undecided of mortals, but once my feelings were excited I was prompt
and bold.

'I'll give the note to Uncle Silas,' I said, quickening my pace toward
home; 'he'll know what to do.'

But Milly, who, I fancy, had no objection to the little romance which the
young officer proposed, told me that she could not see her father, that he
was ill, and not speaking to anyone.

'And arn't ye making a plaguy row about nothin'? I lay a guinea if ye had
never set eyes on Lord Ilbury you'd a told him to come, and see ye, an'
welcome.'

'Don't talk like a fool, Milly. You never knew me do anything deceitful.
Lord Ilbury has no more to do with it, you know very well, than the man in
the moon.'

I was altogether very indignant. I did not speak another word to Milly. The
proportions of the house are so great, that it is a much longer walk than
you would suppose from the hall-door to Uncle Silas's room. But I did not
cool all that way; and it was not till I had just reached the lobby,
and saw the sour, jealous face, and high caul of old Wyat, and felt the
influence of that neighbourhood, that I paused to reconsider. I fancied
there was a cool consciousness of success behind all the deferential
phraseology of Captain Oakley, which nettled me extremely. No; there could
be no doubt. I tapped softly at the door.

'What is it _now_, Miss?' snarled the querulous old woman, with her
shrivelled fingers on the door-handle.

'Can I see my uncle for a moment?'

'He's tired, and not a word from him all day long.'

'Not ill, though?'

'Awful bad in the night,' said the old crone, with a sudden savage glare in
my face, as if _I_ had brought it about.

'Oh! I'm very sorry. I had not heard a word of it.'

'No one does but old Wyat. There's Milly there never asks neither--his own
child!'

'Weakness, or what?'

'One o' them fits. He'll slide awa' in one o' them some day, and no one but
old Wyat to know nor ask word about it; that's how 'twill be.'

'Will you please hand him this note, if he is well enough to look at it,
and say I am at the door?'

She took it with a peevish nod and a grunt, closing the door in my face,
and in a few minutes returned--

'Come in wi' ye,' said Dame Wyat, and I appeared.

Uncle Silas, who, after his nightly horror or vision, lay extended on a
sofa, with his faded yellow silk dressing-gown about him, his long white
hair hanging toward the ground, and that wild and feeble smile lighting his
face--a glimmer I feared to look upon--his long thin arms lay by his sides,
with hands and fingers that stirred not, except when now and then, with a
feeble motion, he wet his temples and forehead with eau de Cologne from a
glass saucer placed beside him.

'Excellent girl! dutiful ward and niece!' murmured the oracle; 'heaven
reward you--your frank dealing is your own safety and my peace. Sit you
down, and say who is this Captain Oakley, when you made his acquaintance,
what his age, fortune, and expectations, and who the aunt he mentions.'

Upon all these points I satisfied him as fully as I was able.

'Wyat--the white drops,' he called, in a thin, stern tone. 'I'll write a
line presently. I can't see visitors, and, of course, you can't receive
young captains before you've come out. Farewell! God bless you, dear.'

Wyat was dropping the 'white' restorative into a wine-glass and the room
was redolent of ether. I was glad to escape. The figures and whole _mise en
scène_ were unearthly.

'Well, Milly,' I said, as I met her in the hall, 'your papa is going to
write to him.'

I sometimes wonder whether Milly was right, and how I should have acted a
few months earlier.

Next day whom should we meet in the Windmill Wood but Captain Oakley. The
spot where this interesting _rencontre_ occurred was near that ruinous
bridge on my sketch of which I had received so many compliments. It was
so great a surprise that I had not time to recollect my indignation, and,
having received him very affably, I found it impossible, during our brief
interview, to recover my lost altitude.

After our greetings were over, and some compliments neatly made, he said--

'I had such a curious note from Mr. Silas Ruthyn. I am sure he thinks me a
very impertinent fellow, for it was really anything but inviting--extremely
rude, in fact. But I could not quite see that because he does not want
me to invade his bed-room--an incursion I never dreamed of--I was not to
present myself to you, who had already honoured me with your acquaintance,
with the sanction of those who were most interested in your welfare, and
who were just as well qualified as he, I fancy, to say who were qualified
for such an honour.'

'My uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn, you are aware, is my guardian; and this is my
cousin, his daughter.'

This was an opportunity of becoming a little lofty, and I improved it. He
raised his hat and bowed to Milly.

'I'm afraid I've been very rude and stupid. Mr. Ruthyn, of course, has a
perfect right to--to--in fact, I was not the least aware that I had the
honour of so near a relation's--a--a--and what exquisite scenery you
have! I think this country round Feltram particularly fine; and this
Bartram-Haugh is, I venture to say, about the very most beautiful spot in
this beautiful region. I do assure you I am tempted beyond measure to make
Feltram and the Hall Hotel my head-quarters for at least a week. I only
regret the foliage; but your trees show wonderfully, even in winter, so
many of them have got that ivy about them. They say it spoils trees, but it
certainly beautifies them. I have just ten days' leave unexpired; I wish
I could induce you to advise me how to apply them. What shall I do, Miss
Ruthyn?'

'I am the worst person in the world to make plans, even for myself, I find
it so troublesome. What do you say? Suppose you try Wales or Scotland, and
climb up some of those fine mountains that look so well in winter?'

'I should much prefer Feltram. I so wish you would recommend _it_. What is
this pretty plant?'

'We call that Maud's myrtle. She planted it, and it's very pretty when it's
full in blow,' said Milly.

Our visit to Elverston had been of immense use to us both.

'Oh! planted by _you?_' he said, very softly, with a momentary
corresponding glance. 'May I--ever so little--just a leaf?'

And without waiting for permission, he held a sprig of it next his
waistcoat.

'Yes, it goes very prettily with those buttons. They are _very_ pretty
buttons; are not they, Milly? A present, a souvenir, I dare say?'

This was a terrible hit at the button-maker, and I thought he looked a
little oddly at me, but my countenance was so 'bewitchingly simple' that I
suppose his suspicions were allayed.

Now, it was very odd of me, I must confess, to talk in this way, and to
receive all those tender allusions from a gentleman about whom I had spoken
and felt so sharply only the evening before. But Bartram was abominably
lonely. A civilised person was a valuable waif or stray in that region of
the picturesque and the brutal; and to my lady reader especially, because
she will probably be hardest upon me, I put it--can you not recollect any
such folly in your own past life? Can you not in as many minutes call to
mind at least six similar inconsistencies of your own practising? For my
part, I really can't see the advantage of being the weaker sex if we are
always to be as strong as our masculine neighbours.

There was, indeed, no revival of the little sentiment which I had once
experienced. When these things once expire, I do believe they are as hard
to revive as our dead lap-dogs, guinea-pigs, and parrots. It was my perfect
coolness which enabled me to chat, I flatter myself, so agreeably with the
refined Captain, who plainly thought me his captive, and was probably
now and then thinking what was to be done to utilise that little bit of
Bartram, or to beautify some other, when he should see fit to become its
master, as we rambled over these wild but beautiful grounds.

It was just about then that Milly nudged me rather vehemently, and
whispered 'Look there!'

I followed with mine the direction of her eyes, and saw my odious cousin,
Dudley, in a flagrant pair of cross-barred peg-tops, and what Milly before
her reformation used to call other 'slops' of corresponding atrocity,
approaching our refined little party with great strides. I really think
that Milly was very nearly ashamed of him. I certainly was. I had no
apprehension, however, of the scene which was imminent.

The charming Captain mistook him probably for some rustic servant of the
place, for he continued his agreeable remarks up to the very moment when
Dudley, whose face was pale with anger, and whose rapid advance had not
served to cool him, without recollecting to salute either Milly or me,
accosted our elegant companion as follows:--

'By your leave, master, baint you summat in the wrong box here, don't you
think?'

He had planted himself directly in his front, and looked unmistakably
menacing.

'May I speak to him? Will you excuse me?' said the Captain blandly.

'Ow--ay, they'll excuse ye ready enough, I dessay; you're to deal wi' me
though. Baint ye in the wrong box now?'

'I'm not conscious, sir, of being in a box at all,' replied the Captain,
with severe disdain. 'It strikes me you are disposed to get up a row. Let
us, if you please, get a little apart from the ladies if that is your
purpose.'

'I mean to turn you out o' this the way ye came. If you make a row, so much
the wuss for you, for I'll lick ye to fits.'

'Tell him not to fight,' whispered Milly; 'he'll a no chance wi' Dudley.'

I saw Dickon Hawkes grinning over the paling on which he leaned.

'Mr. Hawkes,' I said, drawing Milly with me toward that unpromising
mediator, 'pray prevent unpleasantness and go between them.'

'An' git licked o' both sides? Rather not, Miss, thank ye,' grinned Dickon,
tranquilly.

'Who are you, sir?' demanded our romantic acquaintance, with military
sternness.

'I'll tell you who you are--you're Oakley, as stops at the Hall, that
Governor wrote, over-night, not to dare show your nose inside the grounds.
You're a half-starved cappen, come down here to look for a wife, and----'

Before Dudley could finish his sentence, Captain Oakley, than whose face no
regimentals could possibly have been more scarlet, at that moment, struck
with his switch at Dudley's handsome features.

I don't know how it was done--by some 'devilish cantrip slight.' A smack
was heard, and the Captain lay on his back on the ground, with his mouth
full of blood.

'How do ye like the taste o' that?' roared Dickon, from his post of
observation.

In an instant Captain Oakley was on his feet again, hatless, looking quite
frantic, and striking out at Dudley, who was ducking and dipping quite
coolly, and again the same horrid sound, only this time it was double, like
a quick postman's knock, and Captain Oakley was on the grass again.

'Tapped his smeller, by--!' thundered Dickon, with a roar of laughter.

'Come away, Milly--I'm growing ill,' said I.

'Drop it, Dudley, I tell ye; you'll kill him,' screamed Milly.

But the devoted Captain, whose nose, and mouth, and shirt-front formed now
but one great patch of blood, and who was bleeding beside over one eye,
dashed at him again.

I turned away. I felt quite faint, and on the point of crying, with mere
horror.

'Hammer away at his knocker,' bellowed Dickon, in a frenzy of delight.

'He'll break it now, if it ain't already,' cried Milly, alluding, as I
afterwards understood, to the Captain's Grecian nose.

'Brayvo, little un!' The Captain was considerably the taller.

Another smack, and, I suppose, Captain Oakley fell once more.

'Hooray! the dinner-service again, by ----,' roared Dickon. 'Stick to that.
Over the same ground--subsoil, I say. He han't enough yet.'

In a perfect tremor of disgust, I was making as quick a retreat as I could,
and as I did, I heard Captain Oakley shriek hoarsely--

'You're a d---- prizefighter; I can't box you.'

'I told ye I'd lick ye to fits,' hooted Dudley.

'But you're the son of a gentleman, and by ---- you shall fight me _as_ a
gentleman.'

A yell of hooting laughter from Dudley and Dickon followed this sally.

'Gi'e my love to the Colonel, and think o' me when ye look in the
glass--won't ye? An' so you're goin' arter all; well, follow what's left o'
yer nose. Ye forgot some o' yer ivories, didn't ye, on th' grass?'

These and many similar jibes followed the mangled Captain in his retreat.




CHAPTER XLVII

_DOCTOR BRYERLY REAPPEARS_


No one who has not experienced it can imagine the nervous disgust and
horror which such a spectacle as we had been forced in part to witness
leaves upon the mind of a young person of my peculiar temperament.

It affected ever after my involuntary estimate of the principal actors in
it. An exhibition of such thorough inferiority, accompanied by such a shock
to the feminine sense of elegance, is not forgotten by any woman. Captain
Oakley had been severely beaten by a smaller man. It was pitiable, but also
undignified; and Milly's anxieties about his teeth and nose, though in a
certain sense horrible, had also a painful suspicion of the absurd.

People say, on the other hand, that superior prowess, even in such
barbarous contests, inspires in our sex an interest akin to admiration. I
can positively say in my case it was quite the reverse. Dudley Ruthyn stood
lower than ever in my estimation; for though I feared him more, it was by
reason of these brutal and cold-blooded associations.

After this I lived in constant apprehension of being summoned to my uncle's
room, and being called on for an explanation of my meeting with Captain
Oakley, which, notwithstanding my perfect innocence, looked suspicious, but
no such inquisition resulted. Perhaps he did not suspect me; or, perhaps,
he thought, not in his haste, all women are liars, and did not care to hear
what I might say. I rather lean to the latter interpretation.

The exchequer just now, I suppose, by some means, was replenished, for next
morning Dudley set off upon one of his fashionable excursions, as poor
Milly thought them, to Wolverhampton. And the same day Dr. Bryerly arrived.

Milly and I, from my room window, saw him step from his vehicle to the
court-yard.

A lean man, with sandy hair and whiskers, was in the chaise with him. Dr.
Bryerly descended in the unchangeable black suit that always looked new and
never fitted him.

The Doctor looked careworn, and older, I thought, by several years, than
when I last saw him. He was not shown up to my uncle's room; on the
contrary, Milly, who was more actively curious than I, ascertained that our
tremulous butler informed him that my uncle was not sufficiently well for
an interview. Whereupon Dr. Bryerly had pencilled a note, the reply to
which was a message from Uncle Silas, saying that he would be happy to see
him in five minutes.

As Milly and I were conjecturing what it might mean, and before the five
minutes had expired, Mary Quince entered.

'Wyat bid me tell you, Miss, your uncle wants you _this minute_.'

When I entered his room, Uncle Silas was seated at the table, with his desk
before him. He looked up. Could anything be more dignified, suffering, and
venerable?

'I sent for you, dear,' he said very gently, extending his thin, white
hand, and taking mine, which he held affectionately while he spoke,
'because I desire to have no secrets, and wish you thoroughly to know all
that concerns your own interests while subject to my guardianship; and I am
happy to think, my beloved niece, that you requite my candour. Oh, here is
the gentleman. Sit down, dear.'

Doctor Bryerly was advancing, as it seemed, to shake hands with Uncle
Silas, who, however, rose with a severe and haughty air, not the least
over-acted, and made him a slow, ceremonious bow. I wondered how the homely
Doctor could confront so tranquilly that astounding statue of hauteur.

A faint and weary smile, rather sad than comtemptuous, was the only sign he
showed of feeling his repulse.

'How do _you_ do, Miss?' he said, extending his hand, and greeting me after
his ungallant fashion, as if it were an afterthought.

'I think I may as well take a chair, sir,' said Doctor Bryerly, sitting
down serenely, near the table, and crossing his ungainly legs.

My uncle bowed.

'You understand the nature of the business, sir. Do you wish Miss Ruthyn to
remain?' asked Doctor Bryerly.

'I _sent_ for her, sir,' replied my uncle, in a very gentle and sarcastic
tone, a smile on his thin lips, and his strangely-contorted eyebrows raised
for a moment contemptuously. 'This gentleman, my dear Maud, thinks proper
to insinuate that I am robbing you. It surprises me a little, and, no
doubt, you--I've nothing to conceal, and wished you to be present while
he favours me more particularly with his views. I'm right, I think, in
describing it as _robbery_, sir?'

'Why,' said Doctor Bryerly thoughtfully, for he was treating the matter
as one of right, and not of feeling, 'it would be, certainly, taking that
which does not belong to you, and converting it to your own use; but, at
the worst, it would more resemble _thieving_, I think, than robbery.'

I saw Uncle Silas's lip, eyelid, and thin cheek quiver and shrink, as if
with a thrill of tic-douloureux, as Doctor Bryerly spoke this unconsciously
insulting answer. My uncle had, however, the self-command which is learned
at the gaming-table. He shrugged, with a chilly, sarcastic, little laugh,
and a glance at me.

'Your note says _waste_, I think, sir?'

'Yes, waste--the felling and sale of timber in the Windmill Wood, the
selling of oak bark and burning of charcoal, as I'm informed,' said
Bryerly, as sadly and quietly as a man might relate a piece of intelligence
from the newspaper.

'Detectives? or private spies of your own--or, perhaps, my servants, bribed
with my poor brother's money? A very high-minded procedure.'

'Nothing of the kind, sir.'

My uncle sneered.

'I mean, sir, there has been no undue canvass for evidence, and the
question is simply one of right; and it is our duty to see that this
inexperienced young lady is not defrauded.'

'By her own uncle?'

'By anyone,' said Doctor Bryerly, with a natural impenetrability that
excited my admiration.

'Of course you come armed with an opinion?' said my smiling uncle,
insinuatingly.

'The case is before Mr. Serjeant Grinders. These bigwigs don't return their
cases sometimes so quickly as we could wish.'

'Then you have _no_ opinion?' smiled my uncle.

'My solicitor is quite clear upon it; and it seems to me there can be no
question raised, but for form's sake.'

'Yes, for form's sake you take one, and in the meantime, upon a nice
question of law, the surmises of a thick-headed attorney and of an
ingenious apoth--I beg pardon, physician--are sufficient warrant for
telling my niece and ward, in my presence, that I am defrauding her!'

My uncle leaned back in his chair, and smiled with a contemptuous patience
over Doctor Bryerly's head, as he spoke.

'I don't know whether I used that expression, sir, but I am speaking merely
in a technical sense. I mean to say, that, whether by mistake or otherwise,
you are exercising a power which you don't lawfully possess, and that the
effect of that is to impoverish the estate, and, by so much as it benefits
you, to wrong this young lady.'

'I'm a technical defrauder, I see, and your manner conveys the rest. I
thank my God, sir, I am a _very_ different man from what I once was.' Uncle
Silas was speaking in a low tone, and with extraordinary deliberation. 'I
remember when I should have certainly knocked you down, sir, or _tried_ it,
at least, for a great deal less.'

'But seriously, sir, what _do_ you propose?' asked Doctor Bryerly, sternly
and a little flushed, for I think the old man was stirred within him; and
though he did not raise his voice, his manner was excited.

'I propose to defend my rights, sir,' murmured Uncle Silas, very grim. 'I'm
not without an opinion, though you are.'

You seem to think, sir, that I have a pleasure in annoying you; you are
quite wrong. I hate annoying anyone--constitutionally--I _hate_ it; but
don't you see, sir, the position I'm placed in? I wish I could please
everyone, and do my duty.'

Uncle Silas bowed and smiled.

'I've brought with me the Scotch steward from Tolkingden, _your_ estate,
Miss, and if you let us we will visit the spot and make a note of what we
observe, that is, assuming that you admit waste, and merely question our
law.'

'If you please, sir, you and your Scotchman shall do _no such thing_; and,
bearing in mind that I neither deny nor admit anything, you will please
further never more to present yourself, under any pretext whatsoever,
either in this house or on the grounds of Bartram-Haugh, during my
lifetime.'

Uncle Silas rose up with the same glassy smile and scowl, in token that the
interview was ended.

'Good-bye, sir,' said Doctor Bryerly, with a sad and thoughtful air, and
hesitating for a moment, he said to me, 'Do you think, Miss, you could
afford me a word in the hall?'

'Not a word, sir,' snarled Uncle Silas, with a white flash from his eyes.

There was a pause.

'Sit where you are, Maud.'

Another pause.

'If you have anything to say to my ward, sir, you will please to say it
_here_.'

Doctor Bryerly's dark and homely face was turned on me with an expression
of unspeakable compassion.

'I was going to say, that if you think of any way in which I can be of the
least service, Miss, I'm ready to act, that's all; mind, _any_ way.'

He hesitated, looking at me with the same expression as if he had something
more to say; but he only repeated--

'That's all, Miss.'

'Won't you shake hands, Doctor Bryerly, before you go?' I said, eagerly
approaching him.

Without a smile, with the same sad anxiety in his face, with his mind, as
it seemed to me, on something else, and irresolute whether to speak it or
be silent, he took my fingers in a very cold hand, and holding it so, and
slowly shaking it, his grave and troubled glance unconsciously rested on
Uncle Silas's face, while in a sad tone and absent way he said--

'Good-bye, Miss.'

From before that sad gaze my uncle averted his strange eyes quickly, and
looked, oddly, to the window.

In a moment more Doctor Bryerly let my hand go with a sigh, and with an
abrupt little nod to me, he left the room; and I heard that dismallest of
sounds, the retreating footsteps of a true friend, _lost_.

'Lead us not into temptation; if we pray so, we must not mock the eternal
Majesty of Heaven by walking into temptation of our own accord.'

This oracular sentence was not uttered by my uncle until Doctor Bryerly had
been gone at least five minutes.

'I've forbid him my house, Maud--first, because his perfectly unconscious
insolence tries my patience nearly beyond endurance; and again, because I
have heard unfavourable reports of him. On the question of right which he
disputes, I am perfectly informed. I am your tenant, my dear niece; when
I am gone you will learn how _scrupulous_ I have been; you will see how,
under the pressure of the most agonising pecuniary difficulties, the
terrific penalty of a misspent youth, I have been careful never by a hair's
breadth to transgress the strict line of my legal privileges; alike, as
your tenant, Maud, and as your guardian; how, amid frightful agitations,
I have kept myself, by the miraculous strength and grace vouchsafed
me--_pure_.

'The world,' he resumed after a short pause, 'has no faith in any man's
conversion; it never forgets what he was, it never believes him anything
better, it is an inexorable and stupid judge. What I was I will describe in
blacker terms, and with more heartfelt detestation, than my traducers--a
reckless prodigal, a godless profligate. Such I was; what I am, I am. If
I had no hope beyond this world, of all men most miserable; but with that
hope, a sinner saved.'

Then he waxed eloquent and mystical. I think his Swedenborgian studies had
crossed his notions of religion with strange lights. I never could follow
him quite in these excursions into the region of symbolism. I only
recollect that he talked of the deluge and the waters of Mara, and said, 'I
am washed--I am sprinkled,' and then, pausing, bathed his thin temples and
forehead with eau de Cologne; a process which was, perhaps, suggested by
his imagery of sprinkling and so forth.

Thus refreshed, he sighed and smiled, and passed to the subject of Doctor
Bryerly.

'Of Doctor Bryerly, I know that he is sly, that he loves money, was born
poor, and makes nothing by his profession. But he possesses many thousand
pounds, under my poor brother's will, of _your money_; and he has glided
with, of course a modest "nolo episcopari," into the acting trusteeship,
with all its multitudinous opportunities, of your immense property. That
is not doing so badly for a visionary Swedenborgian. Such a man _must_
prosper. But if he expected to make money of me, he is disappointed.
Money, however, he will make of his trusteeship, as you will see. It is a
dangerous resolution. But if he will seek the life of Dives, the worst I
wish him is to find the death of Lazarus. But whether, like Lazarus, he be
borne of angels into Abraham's bosom, or, like the rich man, only dies
and is buried, and _the rest_, neither living nor dying do I desire his
company.'

Uncle Silas here seemed suddenly overtaken by exhaustion. He leaned back
with a ghastly look, and his lean features glistened with the dew of
faintness. I screamed for Wyat. But he soon recovered sufficiently to smile
his odd smile, and with it and his frown, nodded and waved me away.




CHAPTER XLVIII

_QUESTION AND ANSWER_


My uncle, after all, was not ill that day, after the strange fashion of his
malady, be it what it might. Old Wyat repeated in her sour laconic way that
there was 'nothing to speak of amiss with him.' But there remained with
me a sense of pain and fear. Doctor Bryerly, notwithstanding my uncle's
sarcastic reflections, remained, in my estimation, a true and wise friend.
I had all my life been accustomed to rely upon others, and here, haunted by
many unavowed and ill-defined alarms and doubts, the disappearance of an
active and able friend caused my heart to sink.

Still there remained my dear Cousin Monica, and my pleasant and trusted
friend, Lord Ilbury; and in less than a week arrived an invitation from
Lady Mary to the Grange, for me and Milly, to meet Lady Knollys. It
was accompanied, she told me, by a note from Lord Ilbury to my uncle,
supporting her request; and in the afternoon I received a message to attend
my uncle in his room.

'An invitation from Lady Mary Carysbroke for you and Milly to meet Monica
Knollys; have you received it?' asked my uncle, so soon as I was seated.
Answered in the affirmative, he continued--

'Now, Maud Ruthyn, I expect the truth from you; I have been frank, so shall
you. Have you ever heard me spoken ill of by Lady Knollys?'

I was quite taken aback.

I felt my cheeks flushing. I was returning his fierce cold gaze with a
stupid stare, and remained dumb.

'Yes, Maud, you _have_.'

I looked down in silence.

'I _know_ it; but it is right you should answer; have you or have you not?'

I had to clear my voice twice or thrice. There was a kind of spasm in my
throat.

'I am trying to recollect,' I said at last.

'_Do_ recollect,' he replied imperiously.

There was a little interval of silence. I would have given the world to be,
on any conditions, anywhere else in the world.

'Surely, Maud, you don't wish to deceive your guardian? Come, the question
is a plain one, and I know the truth already. I ask you again--have you
ever heard me spoken ill of by Lady Knollys?'

'Lady Knollys,' I said, half articulately,' speaks very freely, and often
half in jest; but,' I continued, observing something menacing in his face,
'I have heard her express disapprobation of some things you have done.'

'Come, Maud,' he continued, in a stern, though still a low key, 'did she
not insinuate that charge--then, I suppose, in a state of incubation,
the other day presented here full-fledged, with beak and claws, by that
scheming apothecary--the statement that I was defrauding you by cutting
down timber upon the grounds?'

'She certainly did mention the circumstance; but she also argued that it
might have been through ignorance of the extent of your rights.'

'Come, come, Maud, you must not prevaricate, girl. I _will_ have it. Does
she not habitually speak disparagingly of me, in your presence, and _to_
you? _Answer_.'

I hung my head.

'Yes or no?'

'Well, perhaps so--yes,' I faltered, and burst into tears.

'There, don't cry; it may well shock you. Did she not, to your knowledge,
say the same things in presence of my child Millicent? I know it, I
repeat--there is no use in hesitating; and I command you to answer.'

Sobbing, I told the truth.

'Now sit still, while I write my reply.'

He wrote, with the scowl and smile so painful to witness, as he looked down
upon the paper, and then he placed the note before me--

'Read that, my dear.'

It began--

'MY DEAR LADY KNOLLYS.--You have favoured me with a note, adding your
request to that of Lord Ilbury, that I should permit my ward and my
daughter to avail themselves of Lady Mary's invitation. Being perfectly
cognisant of the ill-feeling you have always and unaccountably cherished
toward me, and also of the terms in which you have had the delicacy and the
conscience to speak of me before and to my child and my ward, I can only
express my amazement at the modesty of your request, while peremptorily
refusing it. And I shall conscientiously adopt effectual measures to
prevent your ever again having an opportunity of endeavouring to destroy my
influence and authority over my ward and my child, by direct or insinuated
slander.

'Your defamed and injured kinsman,

SILAS RUTHYN.'

I was stunned; yet what could I plead against the blow that was to isolate
me? I wept aloud, with my hands clasped, looking on the marble face of the
old man.

Without seeming to hear, he folded and sealed his note, and then proceeded
to answer Lord Ilbury.

When that note was written, he placed it likewise before me, and I read it
also through. It simply referred him to Lady Knollys 'for an explanation
of the unhappy circumstances which compelled him to decline an invitation
which it would have made his niece and his daughter so happy to accept.'

'You see, my dear Maud, how frank I am with you,' he said, waving the open
note, which I had just read, slightly before he folded it. 'I think I may
ask you to reciprocate my candour.'

Dismissed from this interview, I ran to Milly, who burst into tears from
sheer disappointment, so we wept and wailed together. But in my grief I
think there was more reason.

I sat down to the dismal task of writing to my dear Lady Knollys. I
implored her to make her peace with my uncle. I told her how frank he had
been with me, and how he had shown me his sad reply to her letter. I told
her of the interview to which he had himself invited me with Dr. Bryerly;
how little disturbed he was by the accusation--no sign of guilt; quite the
contrary, perfect confidence. I implored of her to think the best, and
remembering my isolation, to accomplish a reconciliation with Uncle Silas.
'Only think,' I wrote, 'I only nineteen, and two years of solitude before
me. What a separation!' No broken merchant ever signed the schedule of his
bankruptcy with a heavier heart than did I this letter.

The griefs of youth are like the wounds of the gods--there is an ichor
which heals the scars from which it flows: and thus Milly and I consoled
ourselves, and next day enjoyed our ramble, our talk and readings, with a
wonderful resignation to the inevitable.

Milly and I stood in the relation of _Lord Duberly_ to _Doctor Pangloss_. I
was to mend her 'cackleology,' and the occupation amused us both. I think
at the bottom of our submission to destiny lurked a hope that Uncle Silas,
the inexorable, would relent, or that Cousin Monica, that siren, would win
and melt him to her purpose.

Whatever comfort, however, I derived from the absence of Dudley was not to
be of very long duration; for one morning, as I was amusing myself alone,
with a piece of worsted work, thinking, and just at that moment not
unpleasantly, of many things, my cousin Dudley entered the room.

'Back again, like a bad halfpenny, ye see. And how a' ye bin ever since,
lass? Purely, I warrant, be your looks. I'm jolly glad to see ye, I am; no
cattle going like ye, Maud.'

'I think I must ask you to let go my hand, as I can't continue my work,' I
said, very stiffly, hoping to chill his enthusiasm a little.

'Anything to pleasure ye, Maud, 'tain't in my heart to refuse ye nout. I
a'bin to Wolverhampton, lass--jolly row there--and run over to Leamington;
a'most broke my neck, faith, wi' a borrowed horse arter the dogs; ye would
na care, Maud, if I broke my neck, would ye? Well, 'appen, jest a little,'
he good-naturedly supplied, as I was silent.

'Little over a week since I left here, by George; and to me it's half the
almanac like; can ye guess the reason, Maud?'

'Have you seen your sister, Milly, or your father, since your return?' I
asked coldly.

'_They'll_ keep, Maud, never mind 'em; it be you I want to see--it be you
I wor thinkin' on a' the time. I tell ye, lass, I'm all'ays a thinkin' on
ye.'

'I think you ought to go and see your father; you have been away, you say,
some time. I don't think it is respectful,' I said, a little sharply.

'If ye bid me go I'd a'most go, but I could na quite; there's nout on earth
I would na do for you, Maud, excep' leaving you.'

'And that,' I said, with a petulant flush, 'is the only thing on earth I
would ask you to do.'

'Blessed if you baint a blushin', Maud,' he drawled, with an odious grin.

His stupidity was proof against everything.

'It is _too_ bad!' I muttered, with an indignant little pat of my foot and
mimic stamp.

'Well, you lasses be queer cattle; ye're angry wi' me now, cos ye think
I got into mischief--ye do, Maud; ye know't, ye buxsom little fool, down
there at Wolverhampton; and jest for that ye're ready to turn me off again
the minute I come back; 'tisn't fair.'

'I don't _understand_ you, sir; and I _beg_ that you'll leave me.'

'Now, didn't I tell ye about leavin' ye, Maud? 'tis the only thing I can't
compass for yer sake. I'm jest a child in yere hands, I am, ye know. I can
lick a big fellah to pot as limp as a rag, by George!'--(his oaths were not
really so mild)--'ye see summat o' that t'other day. Well, don't be vexed,
Maud; 'twas all along o' you; ye know, I wor a bit jealous, 'appen; but
anyhow I can do it; and look at me here, jest a child, I say, in yer
hands.'

'I wish you'd go away. Have you nothing to do, and no one to see? Why
_can't_ you leave me alone, sir?'

''Cos I can't, Maud, that's jest why; and I wonder, Maud, how can you be so
ill-natured, when you see me like this; how can ye?'

'I wish Milly would come,' said I peevishly, looking toward the door.

'Well, I'll tell you how it is, Maud. I may as well have it out. I like
you better than any lass that ever I saw, a deal; you're nicer by chalks;
there's none like ye--there isn't; and I wish you'd have me. I ha'n't much
tin--father's run through a deal, he's pretty well up a tree, ye know; but
though I baint so rich as some folk, I'm a better man, 'appen; and if ye'd
take a tidy lad, that likes ye awful, and 'id die for your sake, why here
he is.'

'What can you mean, sir?' I exclaimed, rising in indignant bewilderment.

'I mean, Maud, if ye'll marry me, you'll never ha' cause to complain; I'll
never let ye want for nout, nor gi'e ye a wry word.'

'Actually a proposal!' I ejaculated, like a person speaking in a dream.

I stood with my hand on the back of a chair, staring at Dudley; and
looking, I dare say, as stupefied as I felt.

'There's a good lass, ye would na deny me,' said the odious creature,
with one knee on the seat of the chair behind which I was standing, and
attempting to place his arm lovingly round my neck.

This effectually roused me, and starting back, I stamped upon the ground
with actual fury.

'What has there ever been, sir, in my conduct, words, or looks, to
warrant this unparalleled audacity? But that you are as stupid as you are
impertinent, brutal, and ugly, you must, long ago, sir, have seen how I
dislike you. How dare you, sir? Don't presume to obstruct me; I'm going to
my uncle.'

I had never spoken so violently to mortal before.

He in turn looked a little confounded; and I passed his extended but
motionless arm with a quick and angry step.

He followed me a pace or two, however, before I reached the door, looking
horridly angry, but stopped, and only swore after me some of those 'wry
words' which I was never to have heard. I was myself, however, too much
incensed, and moving at too rapid a pace, to catch their import; and I had
knocked at my uncle's door before I began to collect my thoughts.

'Come in,' replied my uncle's voice, clear, thin, and peevish.

I entered and confronted him.

'Your son, sir, has insulted me.'

He looked at me with a cold curiosity steadly for a few seconds, as I stood
panting before him with flaming cheeks.

'Insulted you?' repeated he. 'Egad, you surprise me!'

The ejaculation savoured of 'the old man,' to borrow his scriptural phrase,
more than anything I had heard from him before.

'_How?_' he continued; 'how has Dudley _insulted_ you, my dear child? Come,
you're excited; sit down; take time, and tell me all about it. I did not
know that Dudley was here.'

'I--he--it _is_ an insult. He knew very well--he _must_ know I dislike him;
and he presumed to make a proposal of marriage to me.'

'O--o--oh!' exclaimed my uncle, with a prolonged intonation which plainly
said, Is that the mighty matter?

He looked at me as he leaned back with the same steady curiosity, this time
smiling, which somehow frightened me, and his countenance looked to me
wicked, like the face of a witch, with a guilt I could not understand.

'And that is the amount of your complaint. He made you a formal proposal of
marriage!'

'Yes; he proposed for me.'

As I cooled, I began to feel just a very little disconcerted, and a
suspicion was troubling me that possibly an indifferent person might think
that, having no more to complain of, my language was perhaps a little
exaggerated, and my demeanour a little too tempestuous.

My uncle, I dare say, saw some symptoms of this misgiving, for, smiling
still, he said--

'My dear Maud, however just, you appear to me a little cruel; you don't
seem to remember how much you are yourself to blame; you have one faithful
friend at least, whom I advise your consulting--I mean your looking-glass.
The foolish fellow is young, quite ignorant in the world's ways. He is in
love--desperately enamoured.

  Aimer c'est craindre, et craindre c'est souffrir.

And suffering prompts to desperate remedies. We must not be too hard on a
rough but romantic young fool, who talks according to his folly and his
pain.'




CHAPTER XLIX

_AN APPARITION_


'But, after all,' he suddenly resumed, as if a new thought had struck him,
'is it quite such folly, after all? It really strikes me, dear Maud, that
the subject may be worth a second thought. No, no, you won't refuse to hear
me,' he said, observing me on the point of protesting. 'I am, of course,
assuming that you are fancy free. I am assuming, too, that you don't care
twopence about Dudley, and even that you fancy you dislike him. You know in
that pleasant play, poor Sheridan--delightful fellow!--all our fine spirits
are dead--he makes Mrs. Malaprop say there is nothing like beginning with a
little aversion. Now, though in matrimony, of course, that is only a joke,
yet in love, believe me, it is no such thing. His own marriage with Miss
Ogle, I _know_, was a case in point. She expressed a positive horror of him
at their first acquaintance; and yet, I believe, she would, a few months
later, have died rather than not have married him.'

I was again about to speak, but with a smile he beckoned me into silence.

'There are two or three points you must bear in mind. One of the happiest
privileges of your fortune is that you may, without imprudence, marry
simply for love. There are few men in England who could offer you an estate
comparable with that you already possess; or, in fact, appreciably increase
the splendour of your fortune. If, therefore, he were in all other respects
eligible, I can't see that his poverty would be an objection to weigh for
one moment. He is quite a rough diamond. He has been, like many young men
of the highest rank, too much given up to athletic sports--to that society
which constitutes the aristocracy of the ring and the turf, and all that
kind of thing. You see, I am putting all the worst points first. But I have
known so many young men in my day, after a madcap career of a few years
among prizefighters, wrestlers, and jockeys--learning their slang and
affecting their manners--take up and cultivate the graces and the
decencies. There was poor dear Newgate, many degrees lower in that kind of
frolic, who, when he grew tired of it, became one of the most elegant and
accomplished men in the House of Peers. Poor Newgate, he's gone, too! I
could reckon up fifty of my early friends who all began like Dudley, and
all turned out, more or less, like Newgate.'

At this moment came a knock at the door, and Dudley put in his head most
inopportunely for the vision of his future graces and accomplishments.

'My good fellow,' said his father, with a sharp sort of playfulness, 'I
happen to be talking about my son, and should rather not be overheard; you
will, therefore, choose another time for your visit.'

Dudley hesitated gruffly at the door, but another look from his father
dismissed him.

'And now, my dear, you are to remember that Dudley has fine qualities--the
most affectionate son in his rough way that ever father was blessed with;
most admirable qualities--indomitable courage, and a high sense of honour;
and lastly, that he has the Ruthyn blood--the purest blood, I maintain it,
in England.'

My uncle, as he said this, drew himself up a little, unconsciously, his
thin hand laid lightly over his heart with a little patting motion, and his
countenance looked so strangely dignified and melancholy, that in admiring
contemplation of it I lost some sentences which followed next.

'Therefore, dear, naturally anxious that my boy should not be dismissed
from home--as he must be, should you persevere in rejecting his suit--I beg
that you will reserve your decision to this day fortnight, when I will with
much pleasure hear what you may have to say on the subject. But till then,
observe me, not a word.'

That evening he and Dudley were closeted for a long time. I suspect that he
lectured him on the psychology of ladies; for a bouquet was laid beside my
plate every morning at breakfast, which it must have been troublesome to
get, for the conservatory at Bartram was a desert. In a few days more an
anonymous green parrot arrived, in a gilt cage, with a little note in a
clerk's hand, addressed to 'Miss Ruthyn (of Knowl), Bartram-Haugh,' &c. It
contained only 'Directions for caring green parrot,' at the close of which,
_underlined_, the words appeared--'The bird's name is Maud.'

The bouquets I invariably left on the table-cloth, where I found them--the
bird I insisted on Milly's keeping as her property. During the intervening
fortnight Dudley never appeared, as he used sometimes to do before, at
luncheon, nor looked in at the window as we were at breakfast. He contented
himself with one day placing himself in my way in the hall in his shooting
accoutrements, and, with a clumsy, shuffling kind of respect, and hat in
hand, he said--

'I think, Miss, I must a spoke uncivil t'other day. I was so awful put
about, and didn't know no more nor a child what I was saying; and I wanted
to tell ye I'm sorry for it, and I beg your pardon--very humble, I do.'

I did not know what to say. I therefore said nothing, but made a grave
inclination, and passed on.

Two or three times Milly and I saw him at a little distance in our walks.
He never attempted to join us. Once only he passed so near that some
recognition was inevitable, and he stopped and in silence lifted his hat
with an awkward respect. But although he did not approach us, he was
ostentatious with a kind of telegraphic civility in the distance. He opened
gates, he whistled his dogs to 'heel,' he drove away cattle, and then
himself withdrew. I really think he watched us occasionally to render these
services, for in this distant way we encountered him decidedly oftener than
we used to do before his flattering proposal of marriage.

You may be sure that we discussed, Milly and I, that occurrence pretty
constantly in all sorts of moods. Limited as had been her experience of
human society, she very clearly saw _now_ how far below its presentable
level was her hopeful brother.

The fortnight sped swiftly, as time always does when something we dislike
and shrink from awaits us at its close. I never saw Uncle Silas during that
period. It may seem odd to those who merely read the report of our last
interview, in which his manner had been more playful and his talk more
trifling than in any other, that from it I had carried away a profounder
sense of fear and insecurity than from any other. It was with a foreboding
of evil and an awful dejection that on a very dark day, in Milly's room,
I awaited the summons which I was sure would reach me from my punctual
guardian.

As I looked from the window upon the slanting rain and leaden sky, and
thought of the hated interview that awaited me, I pressed my hand to my
troubled heart, and murmured, 'O that I had wings like a dove! then would I
flee away, and be at rest.'

Just then the prattle of the parrot struck my ear. I looked round on the
wire cage, and remembered the words, 'The bird's name is Maud.'

'Poor bird!' I said. 'I dare say, Milly, it longs to get out. If it were a
native of this country, would not you like to open the window, and then the
door of that cruel cage, and let the poor thing fly away?'

'Master wants Miss Maud,' said Wyat's disagreeable tones, at the half-open
door.

I followed in silence, with the pressure of a near alarm at my heart, like
a person going to an operation.

When I entered the room, my heart beat so fast that I could hardly speak.
The tall form of Uncle Silas rose before me, and I made him a faltering
reverence.

He darted from under his brows a wild, fierce glance at old Wyat, and
pointed to the door imperiously with his skeleton finger. The door shut,
and we were alone.

'A chair?' he said, pointing to a seat.

'Thank you, uncle, I prefer standing,' I faltered.

He also stood--his white head bowed forward, the phosphoric glare of his
strange eyes shone upon me from under his brows--his finger-nails just
rested on the table.

'You saw the luggage corded and addressed, as it stands ready for removal
in the hall?' he asked.

I had. Milly and I had read the cards which dangled from the trunk-handles
and gun-case. The address was--'Mr. Dudley R. Ruthyn, Paris, _viâ_ Dover.'

'I am old--agitated--on the eve of a decision on which much depends. Pray
relieve my suspense. Is my son to leave Bartram to-day in sorrow, or to
remain in joy? Pray answer quickly.'

I stammered I know not what. I was incoherent--wild, perhaps; but somehow
I expressed my meaning--my unalterable decision. I thought his lips grew
whiter and his eyes shone brighter as I spoke.

When I had quite made an end, he heaved a great sigh, and turning his eyes
slowly to the right and the left, like a man in a helpless distraction, he
whispered--

'God's will be done.'

I thought he was upon the point of fainting--a clay tint darkened the white
of his face; and, seeming to forget my presence, he sat down, looking with
a despairing scowl on his ashy old hand, as it lay upon the table.

I stood gazing at him, feeling almost as if I had murdered the old man--he
still gazing askance, with an imbecile scowl, upon his hand.

'Shall I go, sir?' I at length found courage to whisper.

'_Go?_' he said, looking up suddenly; and it seemed to me as if a stream of
cold sheet-lightning had crossed and enveloped me for a moment.

'Go?--oh!--a--yes--_yes_, Maud--go. I must see poor Dudley before his
departure,' he added, as it were, in soliloquy.

Trembling lest he should revoke his permission to depart, I glided quickly
and noiselessly from the room.

Old Wyat was prowling outside, with a cloth in her hand, pretending to dust
the carved door-case. She frowned a stare of enquiry over her shrunken arm
on me, as I passed. Milly, who had been on the watch, ran and met me. We
heard my uncle's voice, as I shut the door, calling Dudley. He had been
waiting, probably, in the adjoining room. I hurried into my chamber, with
Milly at my side, and there my agitation found relief in tears, as that of
girlhood naturally does.

A little while after we saw from the window Dudley, looking, I thought,
very pale, get into a vehicle, on the top of which his luggage lay, and
drive away from Bartram.

I began to take comfort. His departure was an inexpressible relief. His
final departure! a distant journey!

We had tea in Milly's room that night. Firelight and candles are inspiring.
In that red glow I always felt and feel more safe, as well as more
comfortable, than in the daylight--quite irrationally, for we know the
night is the appointed day of such as love the darkness better than light,
and evil walks thereby. But so it is. Perhaps the very consciousness of
external danger enhances the enjoyment of the well-lighted interior, just
as the storm does that roars and hurtles over the roof.

While Milly and I were talking, very cosily, a knock came to the room-door,
and, without waiting for an invitation to enter, old Wyat came in, and
glowering at us, with her brown claw upon the door-handle, she said to
Milly--

'Ye must leave your funnin', Miss Milly, and take your turn in your
father's room.'

'Is he ill?' I asked.

She answered, addressing not me, but Milly--

'A wrought two hours in a fit arter Master Dudley went. 'Twill be the death
o' him, I'm thinkin', poor old fellah. I wor sorry myself when I saw Master
Dudley a going off in the moist to-day, poor fellah. There's trouble enough
in the family without a' that; but 'twon't be a family long, I'm thinkin'.
Nout but trouble, nout but trouble, since late changes came.'

Judging by the sour glance she threw on me as she said this, I concluded
that I represented those 'late changes' to which all the sorrows of the
house were referred.

I felt unhappy under the ill-will even of this odious old woman, being one
of those unhappily constructed mortals who cannot be indifferent when
they reasonably ought, and always yearn after kindness, even that of the
worthless.

'I must go. I wish you'd come wi' me, Maud, I'm so afraid all alone,' said
Milly, imploringly.

'Certainly, Milly,' I answered, not liking it, you may be sure; 'you shan't
sit there alone.'

So together we went, old Wyat cautioning us for our lives to make no noise.

We passed through the old man's sitting-room, where that day had occurred
his brief but momentous interview with me, and his parting with his only
son, and entered the bed-room at the farther end.

A low fire burned in the grate. The room was in a sort of twilight. A
dim lamp near the foot of the bed at the farther side was the only light
burning there. Old Wyat whispered an injunction not to speak above our
breaths, nor to leave the fireside unless the sick man called or showed
signs of weariness. These were the directions of the doctor, who had been
there.

So Milly and I sat ourselves down near the hearth, and old Wyat left us to
our resources. We could hear the patient breathe; but he was quite still.
In whispers we talked; but our conversation flagged. I was, after my wont,
upbraiding myself for the suffering I had inflicted. After about half an
hour's desultory whispering, and intervals, growing longer and longer, of
silence, it was plain that Milly was falling asleep.

She strove against it, and I tried hard to keep her talking; but it would
not do--sleep overcame her; and I was the only person in that ghastly room
in a state of perfect consciousness.

There were associations connected with my last vigil there to make my
situation very nervous and disagreeable. Had I not had so much to occupy my
mind of a distinctly practical kind--Dudley's audacious suit, my uncle's
questionable toleration of it, and my own conduct throughout that most
disagreeable period of my existence,--I should have felt my present
situation a great deal more.

As it was, I thought of my real troubles, and something of Cousin Knollys,
and, I confess, a good deal of Lord Ilbury. When looking towards the door,
I thought I saw a human face, about the most terrible my fancy could have
called up, looking fixedly into the room. It was only a 'three-quarter,'
and not the whole figure--the door hid that in a great measure, and I
fancied I saw, too, a portion of the fingers. The face gazed toward the
bed, and in the imperfect light looked like a livid mask, with chalky eyes.

I had so often been startled by similar apparitions formed by accidental
lights and shadows disguising homely objects, that I stooped forward,
expecting, though tremulously, to see this tremendous one in like manner
dissolve itself into its harmless elements; and now, to my unspeakable
terror, I became perfectly certain that I saw the countenance of Madame de
la Rougierre.

With a cry, I started back, and shook Milly furiously from her trance.

'Look! look!' I cried. But the apparition or illusion was gone.

I clung so fast to Milly's arm, cowering behind her, that she could not
rise.

'Milly! Milly! Milly! Milly!' I went on crying, like one struck with
idiotcy, and unable to say anything else.

In a panic, Milly, who had seen nothing, and could conjecture nothing of
the cause of my terror, jumped up, and clinging to one another, we huddled
together into the corner of the room, I still crying wildly, 'Milly! Milly!
_Milly_!' and nothing else.

'What is it--where is it--what do you see?' cried Milly, clinging to me as
I did to her.

'It will come again; it will come; oh, heaven!'

'What--what is it, Maud?'

'The face! the face!' I cried. 'Oh, Milly! Milly! Milly!'

We heard a step softly approaching the open door, and, in a horrible _sauve
qui peut_, we rushed and stumbled together toward the light by Uncle
Silas's bed. But old Wyat's voice and figure reassured us.

'Milly,' I said, so soon as, pale and very faint, I reached my apartment,
'no power on earth shall ever tempt me to enter that room again after
dark.'

'Why, Maud dear, what, in Heaven's name, did you see?' said Milly, scarcely
less terrified.

'Oh, I can't; I can't; I can't, Milly. Never ask me. It is haunted. The
room is haunted _horribly_.'

'Was it Charke?' whispered Milly, looking over her shoulder, all aghast.

'No, no--don't ask me; a fiend in a worse shape.' I was relieved at last by
a long fit of weeping; and all night good Mary Quince sat by me, and Milly
slept by my side. Starting and screaming, and drugged with sal-volatile, I
got through that night of supernatural terror, and saw the blessed light of
heaven again.

Doctor Jolks, when he came to see my uncle in the morning, visited me also.
He pronounced me very hysterical, made minute enquiries respecting my hours
and diet, asked what I had had for dinner yesterday. There was something
a little comforting in his cool and confident pooh-poohing of the ghost
theory. The result was, a regimen which excluded tea, and imposed chocolate
and porter, earlier hours, and I forget all beside; and he undertook to
promise that, if I would but observe his directions, I should never see a
ghost again.




CHAPTER L

_MILLY'S FAREWELL_


A few days' time saw me much better. Doctor Jolks was so contemptuously
sturdy and positive on the point, that I began to have comfortable doubts
about the reality of my ghost; and having still a horror indescribable
of the illusion, if such it were, the room in which it appeared, and
everything concerning it, I would neither speak, nor, so far as I could,
think of it.

So, though Bartram-Haugh was gloomy as well as beautiful, and some of its
associations awful, and the solitude that reigned there sometimes almost
terrible, yet early hours, bracing exercise, and the fine air that
predominates that region, soon restored my nerves to a healthier tone.

But it seemed to me that Bartram-Haugh was to be to me a vale of tears; or
rather, in my sad pilgrimage, that valley of the shadow of death through
which poor Christian fared alone and in the dark.

One day Milly ran into the parlour, pale, with wet cheeks, and, without
saying a word, threw her arms about my neck, and burst into a paroxysm of
weeping.

'What is it, Milly--what's the matter, dear--what is it?' I cried aghast,
but returning her close embrace heartily.

'Oh! Maud--Maud darling, he's going to send me away.'

'Away, dear! _where_ away? And leave me alone in this dreadful solitude,
where he knows I shall die of fear and grief without you? Oh! no--no, it
_must_ be a mistake.'

'I'm going to France, Maud--I'm going away. Mrs. Jolks is going to London,
day ar'ter to-morrow, and I'm to go wi' her; and an old French lady, he
says, from the school will meet me there, and bring me the rest o' the
way.'

'Oh--ho--ho--ho--ho--o--o--o!' cried poor Milly, hugging me closer still,
with her head buried in my shoulder, and swaying me about like a wrestler,
in her agony.

'I never wor away from home afore, except that little bit wi' you over
there at Elverston; and you wor wi' me then, Maud; an' I love ye--better
than Bartram--better than a'; an' I think I'll die, Maud, if they take me
away.'

I was just as wild in my woe as poor Milly; and it was not until we had
wept together for a full hour--sometimes standing--sometimes walking up and
down the room--sometimes sitting and getting up in turns to fall on one
another's necks,--that Milly, plucking her handkerchief from her pocket,
drew a note from it at the same time, which, as it fell upon the floor, she
at once recollected to be one from Uncle Silas to me.

It was to this effect:--

'I wish to apprise my dear niece and ward of my plans. Milly proceeds to
an admirable French school, as a pensionnaire, and leaves this on Thursday
next. If after three months' trial she finds it in any way objectionable,
she returns to us. If, on the contrary, she finds it in all respects the
charming residence it has been presented to me, you, on the expiration of
that period, join her there, until the temporary complication of my affairs
shall have been so far adjusted as to enable me to receive you once more
at Bartram. Hoping for happier days, and wishing to assure you that three
months is the extreme limit of your separation from my poor Milly, I have
written this, feeling alas! unequal to seeing you at present. 'Bartram,
Tuesday.

'P.S.--I can have no objection to your apprising Monica Knollys of these
arrangements. You will understand, of course, not a copy of this letter,
but its substance.'

Over this document, scanning it as lawyers do a new Act of Parliament, we
took comfort. After all, it was limited; a separation not to exceed three
months, possibly much shorter. On the whole, too, I pleased myself with
thinking Uncle Silas's note, though peremptory, was kind.

Our paroxysms subsided into sadness; a close correspondence was arranged.
Something of the bustle and excitement of change supervened. If it turned
out to be, in truth, a 'charming residence,' how very delightful our
meeting in France, with the interest of foreign scenery, ways, and faces,
would be!

So Thursday arrived--a new gush of sorrow--a new brightening up--and, amid
regrets and anticipations, we parted at the gate at the farther end of the
Windmill Wood. Then, of course, were more good-byes, more embraces, and
tearful smiles. Good Mrs. Jolks, who met us there, was in a huge fuss; I
believe it was her first visit to the metropolis, and she was in proportion
heated and important, and terrified about the train, so we had not many
last words.

I watched poor Milly, whose head was stretched from the window, her hand
waving many adieux, until the curve of the road, and the clump of old
ash-trees, thick with ivy, hid Milly, carriage and all, from view. My eyes
filled again with tears. I turned towards Bartram. At my side stood honest
Mary Quince.

'Don't take on so, Miss; 'twon't be no time passing; three months is
nothing at all,' she said, smiling kindly.

I smiled through my tears and kissed the good creature, and so side by side
we re-entered the gate.

The lithe young man in fustian, whom I had seen talking with Beauty on the
morning of our first encounter with that youthful Amazon, was awaiting our
re-entrance with the key in his hand. He stood half behind the open wicket.
One lean brown cheek, one shy eye, and his sharp up-turned nose, I saw as
we passed. He was treating me to a stealthy scrutiny, and seemed to shun my
glance, for he shut the door quickly, and busied himself locking it, and
then began stubbing up some thistles which grew close by, with the toe of
his thick shoe, his back to us all the time.

It struck me that I recognised his features, and I asked Mary Quince.

'Have you seen that young man before, Quince?'

'He brings up game for your uncle, sometimes, Miss, and lends a hand in the
garden, I believe.'

'Do you know his name, Mary?'

'They call him Tom, I don't know what more, Miss.'

'Tom,' I called; 'please, Tom, come here for a moment.'

Tom turned about, and approached slowly. He was more civil than the Bartram
people usually were, for he plucked off his shapeless cap of rabbit-skin
with a clownish respect.

'Tom, what is your other name,--Tom _what_, my good man?' I asked.

'Tom Brice, ma'am.'

'Haven't I seen you before, Tom Brice?' I pursued, for my curiosity was
excited, and with it much graver feelings; for there certainly _was_ a
resemblance in Tom's features to those of the postilion who had looked so
hard at me as I passed the carriage in the warren at Knowl, on the evening
of the outrage which had scared that quiet place.

''Appen you may have, ma'am,' he answered, quite coolly, looking down the
buttons of his gaiters.

'Are you a good whip--do you drive well?'

'I'll drive a plough wi' most lads hereabout,' answered Tom.

'Have you ever been to Knowl, Tom?'

Tom gaped very innocently.

'Anan,' he said.

'Here, Tom, is half-a-crown.'

He took it readily enough.

'That be very good,' said Tom, with a nod, having glanced sharply at the
coin.

I can't say whether he applied that term to the coin, or to his luck, or to
my generous self.

'Now, Tom, you'll tell me, have you ever been to Knowl?'

'Maught a' bin, ma'am, but I don't mind no sich place--no.'

As Tom spoke this with great deliberation, like a man who loves truth,
putting a strain upon his memory for its sake, he spun the silver coin two
or three times into the air and caught it, staring at it the while, with
all his might.

'Now, Tom, recollect yourself, and tell me the truth, and I'll be a friend
to you. Did you ride postilion to a carriage having a lady in it, and, I
think, several gentlemen, which came to the grounds of Knowl, when the
party had their luncheon on the grass, and there was a--a quarrel with the
gamekeepers? Try, Tom, to recollect; you shall, upon my honour, have no
trouble about it, and I'll try to serve you.'

Tom was silent, while with a vacant gape he watched the spin of his
half-crown twice, and then catching it with a smack in his hand, which he
thrust into his pocket, he said, still looking in the same direction--

'I never rid postilion in my days, ma'am. I know nout o' sich a place,
though 'appen I maught a' bin there; Knowl, ye ca't. I was ne'er out o'
Derbyshire but thrice to Warwick fair wi' horses be rail, an' twice to
York.'

'You're certain, Tom?'

'Sartin sure, ma'am.'

And Tom made another loutish salute, and cut the conference short by
turning off the path and beginning to hollo after some trespassing cattle.

I had not felt anything like so nearly sure in this essay at identification
as I had in that of Dudley. Even of Dudley's identity with the Church
Scarsdale man, I had daily grown less confident; and, indeed, had it been
proposed to bring it to the test of a wager, I do not think I should,
in the language of sporting gentlemen, have cared to 'back' my original
opinion. There was, however, a sufficient uncertainty to make me
uncomfortable; and there was another uncertainty to enhance the unpleasant
sense of ambiguity.

On our way back we passed the bleaching trunks and limbs of several ranks
of barkless oaks lying side by side, some squared by the hatchet, perhaps
sold, for there were large letters and Roman numerals traced upon them in
red chalk. I sighed as I passed them by, not because it was wrongfully
done, for I really rather leaned to the belief that Uncle Silas was well
advised in point of law. But, alas! here lay low the grand old family
decorations of Bartram-Haugh, not to be replaced for centuries to come,
under whose spreading boughs the Ruthyns of three hundred years ago had
hawked and hunted!

On the trunk of one of these I sat down to rest, Mary Quince meanwhile
pattering about in unmeaning explorations. While thus listlessly seated,
the girl Meg Hawkes, walked by, carrying a basket.

'Hish!' she said quickly, as she passed, without altering a pace or raising
her eyes; 'don't ye speak nor look--fayther spies us; I'll tell ye next
turn.'

'Next turn'--when was that? Well, she might be returning; and as she could
not then say more than she had said, in merely passing without a pause, I
concluded to wait for a short time and see what would come of it.

After a short time I looked about me a little, and I saw Dickon
Hawkes--Pegtop, as poor Milly used to call him--with an axe in his hand,
prowling luridly among the timber.

Observing that I saw him, he touched his hat sulkily, and by-and-by passed
me, muttering to himself. He plainly could not understand what business I
could have in that particular part of the Windmill Wood, and let me see it
in his countenance.

His daughter did pass me again; but this time he was near, and she was
silent. Her next transit occurred as he was questioning Mary Quince at some
little distance; and as she passed precisely in the same way, she said--

'Don't you be alone wi' Master Dudley nowhere for the world's worth.'

The injunction was so startling that I was on the point of questioning the
girl. But I recollected myself, and waited in the hope that in her future
transits she might be more explicit. But one word more she did not utter,
and the jealous eye of old Pegtop was so constantly upon us that I
refrained.

There was vagueness and suggestion enough in the oracle to supply work for
many an hour of anxious conjecture, and many a horrible vigil by night. Was
I never to know peace at Bartram-Haugh?

Ten days of poor Milly's absence, and of my solitude, had already passed,
when my uncle sent for me to his room.

When old Wyat stood at the door, mumbling and snarling her message, my
heart died within me.

It was late--just that hour when dejected people feel their anxieties
most--when the cold grey of twilight has deepened to its darkest shade, and
before the cheerful candles are lighted, and the safe quiet of the night
sets in.

When I entered my uncle's sitting-room--though his window-shutters were
open and the wan streaks of sunset visible through them, like narrow lakes
in the chasms of the dark western clouds--a pair of candles were burning;
one stood upon the table by his desk, the other on the chimneypiece, before
which his tall, thin figure stooped. His hand leaned on the mantelpiece,
and the light from the candle just above his bowed head touched his silvery
hair. He was looking, as it seemed, into the subsiding embers of the fire,
and was a very statue of forsaken dejection and decay.

'Uncle!' I ventured to say, having stood for some time unperceived near his
table.

'Ah, yes, Maud, my dear child--my _dear_ child.'

He turned, and with the candle in his hand, smiling his silvery smile of
suffering on me. He walked more feebly and stiffly, I thought, than I had
ever seen him move before.

'Sit down, Maud--pray sit there.'

I took the chair he indicated.

'In my misery and my solitude, Maud, I have invoked you like a spirit, and
you appear.'

With his two hands leaning on the table, he looked across at me, in a
stooping attitude; he had not seated himself. I continued silent until it
should be his pleasure to question or address me.

At last he said, raising himself and looking upward, with a wild
adoration--his finger-tips elevated and glimmering in the faint mixed
light--

'No, I thank my Creator, I am not quite forsaken.'

Another silence, during which he looked steadfastly at me, and muttered, as
if thinking aloud--

'My guardian angel!--my guardian angel! Maud, _you_ have a heart.' He
addressed me suddenly--'Listen, for a few moments, to the appeal of an old
and broken-hearted man--your guardian--your uncle--your _suppliant_. I had
resolved never to speak to you more on this subject. But I was wrong. It
was pride that inspired me--mere pride.'

I felt myself growing pale and flushed by turns during the pause that
followed.

'I'm very miserable--very nearly desperate. What remains for me--what
remains? Fortune has done her worst--thrown in the dust, her wheels rolled
over me; and the servile world, who follow her chariot like a mob, stamp
upon the mangled wretch. All this had passed over me, and left me scarred
and bloodless in this solitude. It was not my fault, Maud--I say it was no
fault of mine; I have no remorse, though more regrets than I can count,
and all scored with fire. As people passed by Bartram, and looked upon its
neglected grounds and smokeless chimneys, they thought my plight, I dare
say, about the worst a proud man could be reduced to. They could not
imagine one half its misery. But this old hectic--this old epileptic--this
old spectre of wrongs, calamities, and follies, had still one hope--my
manly though untutored son--the last male scion of the Ruthyns. Maud, have
I lost him? His fate--my fate--I may say _Milly's fate_;--we all await your
sentence. He loves you, as none but the very young can love, and that once
only in a life. He loves you desperately--a most affectionate nature--a
Ruthyn, the best blood in England--the last man of the race; and I--if I
lose him I lose all; and you will see me in my coffin, Maud, before many
months. I stand before you in the attitude of a suppliant--shall I kneel?'

His eyes were fixed on me with the light of despair, his knotted hands
clasped, his whole figure bowed toward me. I was inexpressibly shocked and
pained.

'Oh, uncle! uncle!' I cried, and from very excitement I burst into tears.

I saw that his eyes were fixed on me with a dismal scrutiny. I think he
divined the nature of my agitation; but he determined, notwithstanding, to
press me while my helpless agitation continued.

'You see my suspense--you see my miserable and frightful suspense. You are
kind, Maud; you love your father's memory; your pity your father's brother;
you would not say no, and place a pistol at his head?'

'Oh! I must--I must--I _must_ say no. Oh! spare me, uncle, for Heaven's
sake. Don't question me--don't press me. I could not--I _could_ not do what
you ask.'

'I yield, Maud--I yield, my dear. I will _not_ press you; you shall have
time, your _own_ time, to think. I will accept no answer now--no, _none_,
Maud.'

He said this, raising his thin hand to silence me.

'There, Maud, enough. I have spoken, as I always do to you, frankly,
perhaps too frankly; but agony and despair will speak out, and plead, even
with the most obdurate and cruel.'

With these words Uncle Silas entered his bed-chamber, and shut the door,
not violently, but with a resolute hand, and I thought I heard a cry.

I hastened to my own room. I threw myself on my knees, and thanked Heaven
for the firmness vouchsafed me; I could not believe it to have been my own.

I was more miserable in consequence of this renewed suit on behalf of
my odious cousin than I can describe. My uncle had taken such a line of
importunity that it became a sort of agony to resist. I thought of the
possibility of my hearing of his having made away with himself, and was
every morning relieved when I heard that he was still as usual. I have
often wondered since at my own firmness. In that dreadful interview with my
uncle I had felt, in the whirl and horror of my mind, on the very point
of submitting, just as nervous people are said to throw themselves over
precipices through sheer dread of falling.




CHAPTER LI

_SARAH MATILDA COMES TO LIGHT_


Some time after this interview, one day as I sat, sad enough, in my room,
looking listlessly from the window, with good Mary Quince, whom, whether
in the house or in my melancholy rambles, I always had by my side, I
was startled by the sound of a loud and shrill female voice, in violent
hysterical action, gabbling with great rapidity, sobbing, and very nearly
screaming in a sort of fury.

I started up, staring at the door.

'Lord bless us!' cried honest Mary Quince, with round eyes and mouth agape,
staring in the same direction.

'Mary--Mary, what can it be?'

'Are they beating some one down yonder? I don't know where it comes from,'
gasped Quince.

'I will--I will--I'll see her. It's her I want.
Oo--hoo--hoo--hoo--oo--o--Miss Maud Ruthyn of Knowl. Miss Ruthyn of Knowl.
Hoo--hoo--hoo--hoo--oo!'

'What on earth can it be?' I exclaimed, in great bewilderment and terror.

It was now plainly very near indeed, and I heard the voice of our mild and
shaky butler evidently remonstrating with the distressed damsel.

'I'll see her,' she continued, pouring a torrent of vile abuse upon me,
which stung me with a sudden sense of anger. What had I done to be afraid
of anyone? How dared anyone in my uncle's house--in _my_ house--mix my name
up with her detestable scurrilities?

'For Heaven's sake, Miss, don't ye go out,' cried poor Quince; 'it's some
drunken creature.'

But I was very angry, and, like a fool as I was, I threw open the door,
exclaiming in a loud and haughty key--

'Here is Miss Ruthyn of Knowl. Who wants to see her?'

A pink and white young lady, with black tresses, violent, weeping, shrill,
voluble, was flouncing up the last stair, and shook her dress out on the
lobby; and poor old Giblets, as Milly used to call him, was following in
her wake, with many small remonstrances and entreaties, perfectly unheeded.

The moment I looked at this person, it struck me that she was the identical
lady whom I had seen in the carriage at Knowl Warren. The next moment I was
in doubt; the next, still more so. She was decidedly thinner, and dressed
by no means in such lady-like taste. Perhaps she was hardly like her at
all. I began to distrust all these resemblances, and to fancy, with a
shudder, that they originated, perhaps, only in my own sick brain.

On seeing me, this young lady--as it seemed to me, a good deal of the
barmaid or lady's-maid species--dried her eyes fiercely, and, with a
flaming countenance, called upon me peremptorily to produce her 'lawful
husband.' Her loud, insolent, outrageous attack had the effect of enhancing
my indignation, and I quite forget what I said to her, but I well remember
that her manner became a good deal more decent. She was plainly under the
impression that I wanted to appropriate her husband, or, at least, that he
wanted to marry me; and she ran on at such a pace, and her harangue was so
passionate, incoherent, and unintelligible, that I thought her out of her
mind: she was far from it, however. I think if she had allowed me even
a second for reflection, I should have hit upon her meaning. As it was,
nothing could exceed my perplexity, until, plucking a soiled newspaper from
her pocket, she indicated a particular paragraph, already sufficiently
emphasised by double lines of red ink at its sides. It was a Lancashire
paper, of about six weeks since, and very much worn and soiled for its age.
I remember in particular a circular stain from the bottom of a vessel,
either of coffee or brown stout. The paragraph was as follows, recording an
event a year or more anterior to the date of the paper:--

'MARRIAGE.--On Tuesday, August 7, 18--, at Leatherwig Church, by the Rev.
Arthur Hughes, Dudley R. Ruthyn, Esq., only son and heir of Silas Ruthyn,
Esq., of Bartram-Haugh, Derbyshire, to Sarah Matilda, second daughter of
John Mangles, Esq., of Wiggan, in this county.'

At first I read nothing but amazement in this announcement, but in another
moment I felt how completely I was relieved; and showing, I believe, my
intense satisfaction in my countenance--for the young lady eyed me with
considerable surprise and curiosity--I said--

'This is extremely important. You must see Mr. Silas Ruthyn this moment. I
am certain he knows nothing of it. I will conduct you to him.'

'No more he does--I know that myself,' she replied, following me with a
self-asserting swagger, and a great rustling of cheap silk.

As we entered, Uncle Silas looked up from his sofa, and closed his _Revue
des Deux Mondes_.

'What is all this?' he enquired, drily.

'This lady has brought with her a newspaper containing an extraordinary
statement which affects our family,' I answered.

Uncle Silas raised himself, and looked with a hard, narrow scrutiny at the
unknown young lady.

'A libel, I suppose, in the paper?' he said, extending his hand for it.

'No, uncle--no; only a marriage,' I answered.

'Not Monica?' he said, as he took it. 'Pah, it smells all over of tobacco
and beer,' he added, throwing a little eau de Cologne over it.

He raised it with a mixture of curiosity and disgust, saying again 'pah,'
as he did so.

He read the paragraph, and as he did his face changed from white, all over,
to lead colour. He raised his eyes, and looked steadily for some seconds at
the young lady, who seemed a little awed by his strange presence.

'And you are, I suppose, the young lady, Sarah Matilda _née_ Mangles,
mentioned in this little paragraph?' he said, in a tone you would have
called a sneer, were it not that it trembled.

Sarah Matilda assented.

'My son is, I dare say, within reach. It so happens that I wrote to arrest
his journey, and summon him here, some days since--some days since--some
days since,' he repeated slowly, like a person whose mind has wandered far
away from the theme on which he is speaking.

He had rung his bell, and old Wyat, always hovering about his rooms,
entered.

'I want my son, immediately. If not in the house, send Harry to the
stables; if not there, let him be followed, instantly. Brice is an active
fellow, and will know where to find him. If he is in Feltram, or at a
distance, let Brice take a horse, and Master Dudley can ride it back. He
must be here without the loss of one moment.'

There intervened nearly a quarter of an hour, during which whenever he
recollected her, Uncle Silas treated the young lady with a hyper-refined
and ceremonious politeness, which appeared to make her uneasy, and even a
little shy, and certainly prevented a renewal of those lamentations and
invectives which he had heard faintly from the stair-head.

But for the most part Uncle Silas seemed to forget us and his book, and all
that surrounded him, lying back in the corner of his sofa, his chin upon
his breast, and such a fearful shade and carving on his features as made me
prefer looking in any direction but his.

At length we heard the tread of Dudley's thick boots on the oak boards,
and faint and muffled the sound of his voice as he cross-examined old Wyat
before entering the chamber of audience.

I think he suspected quite another visitor, and had no expectation of
seeing the particular young lady, who rose from her chair as he entered, in
an opportune flood of tears, crying--

'Oh, Dudley, Dudley!--oh, Dudley, could you? Oh, Dudley, your own poor Sal!
You could not--you would not--your lawful wife!'

This and a good deal more, with cheeks that streamed like a window-pane in
a thunder-shower, spoke Sarah Matilda with all her oratory, working his
arm, which she clung to, up and down all the time, like the handle of a
pump. But Dudley was, manifestly, confounded and dumbfoundered. He stood
for a long time gaping at his father, and stole just one sheepish glance
at me; and, with red face and forehead, looked down at his boots, and then
again at his father, who remained just in the attitude I have described,
and with the same forbidding and dreary intensity in his strange face.

Like a quarrelsome man worried in his sleep by a noise, Dudley suddenly
woke up, as it were, with a start, in a half-suppressed exasperation,
and shook her off with a jerk and a muttered curse, as she whisked
involuntarily into a chair, with more violence than could have been
pleasant.

'Judging by your looks and demeanour, sir, I can almost anticipate your
answers,' said my uncle, addressing him suddenly. 'Will you be good
enough--pray, madame (parenthetically to our visitor), command yourself for
a few moments. Is this young person the daughter of a Mr. Mangles, and is
her name Sarah Matilda?'

'I dessay,' answered Dudley, hurriedly.

'Is she your wife?'

'Is she my wife?' repeated Dudley, ill at ease.

'Yes, sir; it is a plain question.'

All this time Sarah Matilda was perpetually breaking into talk, and with
difficulty silenced by my uncle.

'Well, 'appen she says I am--does she?' replied Dudley.

'Is she your wife, sir?'

'Mayhap she so considers it, after a fashion,' he replied, with an impudent
swagger, seating himself as he did so.

'What do _you_ think, sir?' persisted Uncle Silas.

'I don't think nout about it,' replied Dudley, surlily.

'Is that account true?' said my uncle, handing him the paper.

'They wishes us to believe so, at any rate.'

'Answer directly, sir. We have our thoughts upon it. If it be true, it is
capable of _every_ proof. For expedition's sake I ask you. There is no use
in prevaricating.'

'Who wants to deny it? It _is_ true--there!'

'_There!_ I knew he would,' screamed the young woman, hysterically, with a
laugh of strange joy.

'Shut up, will ye?' growled Dudley, savagely.

'Oh, Dudley, Dudley, darling! what have I done?'

'Bin and ruined me, jest--that's all.'

'Oh! no, no, no, Dudley. Ye know I wouldn't. I could not--_could_ not hurt
ye, Dudley. No, no, no!'

He grinned at her, and, with a sharp side-nod, said--

'Wait a bit.'

'Oh, Dudley, don't be vexed, dear. I did not mean it. I would not hurt ye
for all the world. Never.'

'Well, never mind. You and yours tricked me finely; and now you've got
me--that's all.'

My uncle laughed a very odd laugh.

'I knew it, of course; and upon my word, madame, you and he make a very
pretty couple,' sneered Uncle Silas.

Dudley made no answer, looking, however, very savage.

And with this poor young wife, so recently wedded, the low villain had
actually solicited me to marry him!

I am quite certain that my uncle was as entirely ignorant as I of Dudley's
connection, and had, therefore, no participation in this appalling
wickedness.

'And I have to congratulate you, my good fellow, on having secured the
affections of a very suitable and vulgar young woman.'

'I baint the first o' the family as a' done the same,' retorted Dudley.

At this taunt the old man's fury for a moment overpowered him. In an
instant he was on his feet, quivering from head to foot. I never saw such
a countenance--like one of those demon-grotesques we see in the Gothic
side-aisles and groinings--a dreadful grimace, monkey-like and insane--and
his thin hand caught up his ebony stick, and shook it paralytically in the
air.

'If ye touch me wi' that, I'll smash ye, by ----!' shouted Dudley, furious,
raising his hands and hitching his shoulder, just as I had seen him when he
fought Captain Oakley.

For a moment this picture was suspended before me, and I screamed, I know
not what, in my terror. But the old man, the veteran of many a scene of
excitement, where men disguise their ferocity in calm tones, and varnish
their fury with smiles, had not quite lost his self-command. He turned
toward me and said--

'Does he know what he's saying?'

And with an icy laugh of contempt, his high, thin forehead still flushed,
he sat down trembling.

'If you want to say aught, I'll hear ye. Ye may jaw me all ye like, and
I'll stan' it.'

'Oh, I may speak? Thank you,' sneered Uncle Silas, glancing slowly round at
me, and breaking into a cold laugh.

'Ay, I don't mind cheek, not I; but you must not go for to do that, ye
know. Gammon. I won't stand a blow--I won't fro _no_ one.

'Well, sir, availing myself of your permission to speak, I may remark,
without offence to the young lady, that I don't happen to recollect the
name Mangles among the old families of England. I presume you have chosen
her chiefly for her virtues and her graces.'

Mrs. Sarah Matilda, not apprehending this compliment quite as Uncle Silas
meant it, dropped a courtesy, notwithstanding her agitation, and, wiping
her eyes, said, with a blubbered smile--

'You're very kind, sure.'

'I hope, for both your sakes, she has got a little money. I don't see how
you are to live else. You're too lazy for a game-keeper; and I don't
think you could keep a pot-house, you are so addicted to drinking and
quarrelling. The only thing I am quite clear upon is, that you and your
wife must find some other abode than this. You shall depart this evening:
and now, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Ruthyn, you may quit this room, if you
please.'

Uncle Silas had risen, and made them one of his old courtly bows, smiling a
death-like sneer, and pointing to the door with his trembling fingers.

'Come, will ye?' said Dudley, grinding his teeth. 'You're pretty well done
here.'

Not half understanding the situation, but looking woefully bewildered, she
dropped a farewell courtesy at the door.

'Will ye _cut_?' barked Dudley, in a tone that made her jump; and suddenly,
without looking about, he strode after her from the room.

'Maud, how shall I recover this? The vulgar _villain_--the _fool_! What an
abyss were we approaching! and for me the last hope gone--and for me utter,
utter, irretrievable ruin.'

He was passing his fingers tremulously back and forward along the top of
the mantelpiece, like a man in search of something, and continued so,
looking along it, feebly and vacantly, although there was nothing there.

'I wish, uncle--you do not know how much I wish--I could be of any use to
you. Maybe I can?'

He turned, and looked at me sharply.

'Maybe you can,' he echoed slowly. 'Yes, maybe you can,' he repeated more
briskly.' Let us--let us see--let us think--that d---- fellow!--my head!'

'You're not well, uncle?'

'Oh! yes, very well. We'll talk in the evening--I'll send for you.'

I found Wyat in the next room, and told her to hasten, as I thought he was
ill. I hope it was not very selfish, but such had grown to be my horror of
seeing him in one of his strange seizures, that I hastened from the room
precipitately--partly to escape the risk of being asked to remain.

The walls of Bartram House are thick, and the recess at the doorway deep.
As I closed my uncle's door, I heard Dudley's voice on the stairs. I did
not wish to be seen by him or by his 'lady', as his poor wife called
herself, who was engaged in vehement dialogue with him as I emerged, and
not caring either to re-enter my uncle's room, I remained quietly ensconced
within the heavy door-case, in which position I overheard Dudley say with a
savage snarl--

'You'll jest go back the way ye came. I'm not goin' wi' ye, if that's what
ye be drivin' at--dang your impitins!'

'Oh! Dudley, dear, what have I done--what _have_ I done--ye hate me so?'

'What a' ye done? Ye vicious little beast, ye! You've got us turned out an'
disinherited wi' yer d----d bosh, that's all; don't ye think it's enough?'

I could only hear her sobs and shrill tones in reply, for they were
descending the stairs; and Mary Quince reported to me, in a horrified sort
of way, that she saw him bundle her into the fly at the door, like a truss
of hay into a hay-loft. And he stood with his head in at the window,
scolding her, till it drove away.

'I knew he wor jawing her, poor thing! By the way he kep' waggin' his
head--an' he had his fist inside, a shakin' in her face I'm sure he looked
wicked enough for anything; an' she a crying like a babby, an' lookin'
back, an' wavin' her wet hankicher to him--poor thing!--and she so young!
'Tis a pity. Dear me! I often think, Miss, 'tis well for me I never was
married. And see how we all would like to get husbands for all that, though
so few is happy together. 'Tis a queer world, and them that's single is
maybe the best off after all.'




CHAPTER LII

_THE PICTURE OF A WOLF_


I went down that evening to the sitting-room which had been assigned to
Milly and me, in search of a book--my good Mary Quince always attending me.
The door was a little open, and I was startled by the light of a candle
proceeding from the fireside, together with a considerable aroma of tobacco
and brandy.

On my little work-table, which he had drawn beside the hearth, lay Dudley's
pipe, his brandy-flask, and an empty tumbler; and he was sitting with one
foot on the fender, his elbow on his knee, and his head resting in his
hand, weeping. His back being a little toward the door, he did not perceive
us; and we saw him rub his knuckles in his eyes, and heard the sounds of
his selfish lamentation.

Mary and I stole away quietly, leaving him in possession, wondering when
he was to leave the house, according to the sentence which I had heard
pronounced upon him.

I was delighted to see old 'Giblets' quietly strapping his luggage in the
hall, and heard from him in a whisper that he was to leave that evening by
rail--he did not know whither.

About half an hour afterwards, Mary Quince, going out to reconnoitre, heard
from old Wyat in the lobby that he had just started to meet the train.

Blessed be heaven for that deliverance! An evil spirit had been cast out,
and the house looked lighter and happier. It was not until I sat down in
the quiet of my room that the scenes and images of that agitating day began
to move before my memory in orderly procession, and for the first time
I appreciated, with a stunning sense of horror and a perfect rapture of
thanksgiving, the value of my escape and the immensity of the danger which
had threatened me. It may have been miserable weakness--I think it was. But
I was young, nervous, and afflicted with a troublesome sort of conscience,
which occasionally went mad, and insisted, in small things as well as
great, upon sacrifices which my reason now assures me were absurd. Of
Dudley I had a perfect horror; and yet had that system of solicitation,
that dreadful and direct appeal to my compassion, that placing of my feeble
girlhood in the seat of the arbiter of my aged uncle's hope or despair,
been long persisted in, my resistance might have been worn out--who can
tell?--and I self-sacrificed! Just as criminals in Germany are teased, and
watched, and cross-examined, year after year, incessantly, into a sort of
madness; and worn out with the suspense, the iteration, the self-restraint,
and insupportable fatigue, they at last cut all short, accuse themselves,
and go infinitely relieved to the scaffold--you may guess, then, for me,
nervous, self-diffident, and alone, how intense was the comfort of knowing
that Dudley was actually married, and the harrowing importunity which had
just commenced for ever silenced.

That night I saw my uncle. I pitied him, though I feared him. I was longing
to tell him how anxious I was to help him, if only he could point out the
way. It was in substance what I had already said, but now strongly urged.
He brightened; he sat up perpendicularly in his chair with a countenance,
not weak or fatuous now, but resolute and searching, and which contracted
into dark thought or calculation as I talked.

I dare say I spoke confusedly enough. I was always nervous in his presence;
there was, I fancy, something mesmeric in the odd sort of influence which,
without effort, he exercised over my imagination.

Sometimes this grew into a dismal panic, and Uncle Silas--polished,
mild--seemed unaccountably horrible to me. Then it was no longer an
accidental fascination of electro-biology. It was something more. His
nature was incomprehensible by me. He was without the nobleness, without
the freshness, without the softness, without the frivolities of such human
nature as I had experienced, either within myself or in other persons. I
instinctively felt that appeals to sympathies or feelings could no
more affect him than a marble monument. He seemed to accommodate his
conversation to the moral structure of others, just as spirits are said to
assume the shape of mortals. There were the sensualities of the gourmet for
his body, and there ended his human nature, as it seemed to me. Through
that semi-transparent structure I thought I could now and then discern the
light or the glare of his inner life. But I understood it not.

He never scoffed at what was good or noble--his hardest critic could not
nail him to one such sentence; and yet, it seemed somehow to me that his
unknown nature was a systematic blasphemy against it all. If fiend he was,
he was yet something higher than the garrulous, and withal feeble, demon of
Goethe. He assumed the limbs and features of our mortal nature. He shrouded
his own, and was a profoundly reticent Mephistopheles. Gentle he had been
to me--kindly he had nearly always spoken; but it seemed like the mild talk
of one of those goblins of the desert, whom Asiatic superstition tells of,
who appear in friendly shapes to stragglers from the caravan, beckon to
them from afar, call them by their names, and lead them where they are
found no more. Was, then, all his kindness but a phosphoric radiance
covering something colder and more awful than the grave?

'It is very noble of you, Maud--it is angelic; your sympathy with a ruined
and despairing old man. But I fear you will recoil. I tell you frankly that
less than twenty thousand pounds will not extricate me from the quag of
ruin in which I am entangled--lost!'

'Recoil! Far from it. I'll do it. There must be some way.'

'Enough, my fair young protectress--celestial enthusiast, enough. Though
you do not, yet I recoil. I could not bring myself to accept this
sacrifice. What signifies, even to me, my extrication? I lie a mangled
wretch, with fifty mortal wounds on my crown; what avails the healing of
one wound, when there are so many beyond all cure? Better to let me perish
where I fall; and reserve your money for the worthier objects whom,
perhaps, hereafter may avail to save.'

'But I _will_ do this. I must. I cannot see you suffer with the power in my
hands unemployed to help you,' I exclaimed.

'Enough, dear Maud; the will is here--enough: there is balm in your
compassion and good-will. Leave me, ministering angel; for the present I
cannot. If you _will_, we can talk of it again. Good-night.'

And so we parted.

The attorney from Feltram, I afterwards heard, was with him nearly all that
night, trying in vain to devise by their joint ingenuity any means by which
I might tie myself up. But there were none. I could not bind myself.

I was myself full of the hope of helping him. What was this sum to me,
great as it seemed? Truly nothing. I could have spared it, and never felt
the loss.

I took up a large quarto with coloured prints, one of the few books I had
brought with me from dear old Knowl. Too much excited to hope for sleep in
bed, I opened it, and turned over the leaves, my mind still full of Uncle
Silas and the sum I hoped to help him with.

Unaccountably one of those coloured engravings arrested my attention.
It represented the solemn solitude of a lofty forest; a girl, in Swiss
costume, was flying in terror, and as she fled flinging a piece of meat
behind her which she had taken from a little market-basket hanging upon her
arm. Through the glade a pack of wolves were pursuing her.

The narrative told, that on her return homeward with her marketing, she had
been chased by wolves, and barely escaped by flying at her utmost speed,
from time to time retarding, as she did so, the pursuit, by throwing, piece
by piece, the contents of her basket, in her wake, to be devoured and
fought for by the famished beasts of prey.

This print had seized my imagination. I looked with a curious interest on
the print: something in the disposition of the trees, their great height,
and rude boughs, interlacing, and the awful shadow beneath, reminded me of
a portion of the Windmill Wood where Milly and I had often rambled. Then I
looked at the figure of the poor girl, flying for her life, and glancing
terrified over her shoulder. Then I gazed on the gaping, murderous pack,
and the hoary brute that led the van; and then I leaned back in my chair,
and I thought--perhaps some latent association suggested what seemed a
thing so unlikely--of a fine print in my portfolio from Vandyke's noble
picture of Belisarius. Idly I traced with my pencil, as I leaned back, on
an envelope that lay upon the table, this little inscription. It was mere
fiddling; and, absurd as it looked, there was nothing but an honest meaning
in it:--'20,000_l_. Date Obolum Belisario!' My dear father had translated
the little Latin inscription for me, and I had written it down as a sort
of exercise of memory; and also, perhaps, as expressive of that sort of
compassion which my uncle's fall and miserable fate excited invariably in
me. So I threw this queer little memorandum upon the open leaf of the book,
and again the flight, the pursuit, and the bait to stay it, engaged my eye.
And I heard a voice near the hearthstone, as I thought, say, in a stern
whisper, 'Fly the fangs of Belisarius!'

'What's that?' said I, turning sharply to Mary Quince.

Mary rose from her work at the fireside, staring at me with that odd sort
of frown that accompanies fear and curiosity.

'You spoke? Did you speak?' I said, catching her by the arm, very much
frightened myself.

'No, Miss; no, dear!' answered she, plainly thinking that I was a little
wrong in my head.

There could be no doubt it was a trick of the imagination, and yet to this
hour I could recognise that clear stern voice among a thousand, were it to
speak again.

Jaded after a night of broken sleep and much agitation, I was summoned next
morning to my uncle's room.

He received me _oddly_, I thought. His manner had changed, and made an
uncomfortable impression upon me. He was gentle, kind, smiling, submissive,
as usual; but it seemed to me that he experienced henceforth toward me the
same half-superstitous repulsion which I had always felt from him. Dream,
or voice, or vision--which had done it? There seemed to be an unconscious
antipathy and fear. When he thought I was not looking, his eyes were
sometimes grimly fixed for a moment upon me. When I looked at him, his eyes
were upon the book before him; and when he spoke, a person not heeding what
he uttered would have fancied that he was reading aloud from it.

There was nothing tangible but this shrinking from the encounter of our
eyes. I said he was kind as usual. He was even more so. But there was this
new sign of our silently repellant natures. Dislike it could not be. He
knew I longed to serve him. Was it shame? Was there not a shade of horror
in it?

'I have not slept,' said he. 'For me the night has passed in thought, and
the fruit of it is this--I _cannot_, Maud, accept your noble offer.'

'I am _very_ sorry,' exclaimed I, in all honesty.

'I know it, my dear niece, and appreciate your goodness; but there are
many reasons--none of them, I trust, ignoble--and which together render
it impossible. No. It would be misunderstood--my honour shall not be
impugned.'

'But, sir, that could not be; you have never proposed it. It would be all,
from first to last, _my_ doing.'

'True, dear Maud, but I know, alas! more of this evil and slanderous world
than your happy inexperience can do. Who will receive our testimony?
None--no, not one. The difficulty--the insuperable moral difficulty is
this--that I should expose myself to the plausible imputation of having
worked upon you, unduly, for this end; and more, that I could not hold
myself quite free from blame. It is your voluntary goodness, Maud. But you
are young, inexperienced; and it is, I hold it, my duty to stand between
you and any dealing with your property at so unripe an age. Some people may
call this Quixotic. In my mind it is an imperious mandate of conscience;
and I peremptorily refuse to disobey it, although within three weeks an
execution will be in this house!'

I did not quite know what an execution meant; but from two harrowing
novels, with whose distresses I was familiar, I knew that it indicated some
direful process of legal torture and spoliation.

'Oh, uncle I--oh, sir!--you cannot allow this to happen. What will people
say of me? And--and there is poor Milly--and _everything_! Think what it
will be.'

'It cannot be helped--_you_ cannot help it, Maud. Listen to me. There will
be an execution here, I cannot say exactly how soon, but, I think, in a
little more than a fortnight. I must provide for your comfort. You must
leave. I have arranged that you shall join Milly, for the present, in
France, till I have time to look about me. You had better, I think, write
to your cousin, Lady Knollys. She, with all her oddities, has a heart. Can
you say, Maud, that I have been kind?'

'You have never been anything but kind,' I exclaimed.

'That I've been self-denying when you made me a generous offer?' he
continued. 'That I now act to spare you pain? You may tell her, not as a
message from me, but as a fact, that I am seriously thinking of vacating my
guardianship--that I feel I have done her an injustice, and that, so
soon as my mind is a little less tortured, I shall endeavour to effect a
reconciliation with her, and would wish ultimately to transfer the care
of your person and education to _her_. You may say I have no longer an
interest even in vindicating my name. My son has wrecked himself by a
marriage. I forgot to tell you he stopped at Feltram, and this morning
wrote to pray a parting interview. If I grant it, it shall be the last. I
shall never see him or correspond with him more.'

The old man seemed much overcome, and held his hankerchief to his eyes.

'He and his wife are, I understand, about to emigrate; the sooner the
better,' he resumed, bitterly. 'Deeply, Maud, I regret having tolerated his
suit to you, even for a moment. Had I thought it over, as I did the whole
case last night, nothing could have induced me to permit it. But I have
lived for so long like a monk in his cell, my wants and observation limited
to the narrow compass of this chamber, that my knowledge of the world has
died out with my youth and my hopes: and I did not, as I ought to have
done, consider many objections. Therefore, dear Maud, on this one subject,
I entreat, be silent; its discussion can effect nothing now. I was wrong,
and frankly ask you to forget my mistake.'

I had been on the point of writing to Lady Knollys on this odious subject,
when, happily, it was set at rest by the disclosure of yesterday; and being
so, I could have no difficulty in acceding to my uncle's request. He was
conceding so much that I could not withhold so trifling a concession in
return.

'I hope Monica will continue to be kind to poor Milly after I am gone.'

Here there were a few seconds of meditation.

'Maud, you will not, I think, refuse to convey the substance of what I
have just said in a letter to Lady Knollys, and perhaps you would have
no objection to let me see it when it is written. It will prevent the
possibility of its containing any misconception of what I have just spoken:
and, Maud, you won't forget to say whether I have been kind. It would be
a satisfaction to me to know that Monica was assured that I never either
teased or bullied my young ward.'

With these words he dismissed me; and forthwith I completed such a letter
as would quite embody what he had said; and in my own glowing terms,
being in high good-humour with Uncle Silas, recorded my estimate of his
gentleness and good-nature; and when I submitted it to him, he expressed
his admiration of what he was pleased to call my cleverness in so exactly
conveying what he wished, and his gratitude for the handsome terms in which
I had spoken of my old guardian.




CHAPTER LIII

_AN ODD PROPOSAL_


As I and Mary Quince returned from our walk that day, and had entered the
hall, I was surprised most disagreeably by Dudley's emerging from the
vestibule at the foot of the great staircase. He was, I suppose, in his
travelling costume--a rather soiled white surtout, a great coloured muffler
in folds about his throat, his 'chimney-pot' on, and his fur cap sticking
out from his pocket. He had just descended, I suppose, from my uncle's
room. On seeing me he stepped back, and stood with his shoulders to the
wall, like a mummy in a museum.

I pretended to have a few words to say to Mary before leaving the hall,
in the hope that, as he seemed to wish to escape me, he would take the
opportunity of getting quickly off the scene.

But he had changed his mind, it would seem, in the interval; for when I
glanced in that direction again he had moved toward us, and stood in the
hall with his hat in his hand. I must do him the justice to say he looked
horribly dismal, sulky, and frightened.

'Ye'll gi'e me a word, Miss--only a thing I ought to say--for your good; by
----, mind, it's for _your_ good, Miss.'

Dudley stood a little way off, viewing me, with his hat in both hands and a
'glooming' countenance.

I detested the idea of either hearing or speaking to him; but I had no
resolution to refuse, and only saying 'I can't imagine what you can wish to
speak to me about,' I approached him. 'Wait there at the banister, Quince.'

There was a fragrance of alcohol about the flushed face and gaudy muffler
of this odious cousin, which heightened the effect of his horribly dismal
features. He was speaking, besides, a little thickly; but his manner was
dejected, and he was treating me with an elaborate and discomfited respect
which reassured me.

'I'm a bit up a tree, Miss,' he said shuffling his feet on the oak floor.
'I behaved a d---- fool; but I baint one o' they sort. I'm a fellah as 'ill
fight his man, an' stan' up to 'm fair, don't ye see? An' _baint_ one o'
they sort--no, _dang_ it, I baint.'

Dudley delivered his puzzling harangue with a good deal of undertoned
vehemence, and was strangely agitated. He, too, had got an unpleasant way
of avoiding my eye, and glancing along the floor from corner to corner as
he spoke, which gave him a very hang-dog air.

He was twisting his fingers in his great sandy whisker, and pulling it
roughly enough to drag his cheek about by that savage purchase; and with
his other hand he was crushing and rubbing his hat against his knee.

'The old boy above there be half crazed, I think; he don't mean half as he
says thof, not he. But I'm in a bad fix anyhow--a regular sell it's been,
and I can't get a tizzy out of him. So, ye see, I'm up a tree, Miss; and he
sich a one, he'll make it a wuss mull if I let him. He's as sharp wi' me as
one o' them lawyer chaps, dang 'em, and he's a lot of I O's and rubbitch o'
mine; and Bryerly writes to me he can't gi'e me my legacy, 'cause he's got
a notice from Archer and Sleigh a warnin' him not to gi'e me as much as a
bob; for I signed it away to governor, he says--which I believe's a lie. I
may a' signed some writing--'appen I did--when I was a bit cut one night.
But that's no way to catch a gentleman, and 'twon't stand. There's justice
to be had, and 'twon't _stand_, I say; and I'm not in 'is hands that way.
Thof I may be a bit up the spout, too, I don't deny; only I baint agoin'
the whole hog all at once. I'm none o' they sort. He'll find I baint.'

Here Mary Quince coughed demurely from the foot of the stair, to remind me
that the conversation was protracted.

'I don't very well understand,' I said gravely; 'and I am now going
upstairs.'

'Don't jest a minute, Miss; it's only a word, ye see. We'll be goin' t'
Australia, Sary Mangles, an' me, aboard the _Seamew_, on the 5th. I'm
for Liverpool to-night, and she'll meet me there, an'--an', please God
Almighty, ye'll never see me more; an I'd rather gi'e ye a lift, Maud,
before I go: an' I tell ye what, if ye'll just gi'e me your written promise
ye'll gi'e me that twenty thousand ye were offering to gi'e the Governor,
I'll take ye cleverly out o' Bartram, and put ye wi' your cousin Knollys,
or anywhere ye like best.'

'Take me from Bartram--for twenty thousand pounds! Take me away from my
guardian! You seem to forget, sir,' my indignation rising as I spoke, 'that
I can visit my cousin, Lady Knollys, whenever I please.'

'Well, that is as it may be,' he said, with a sulky deliberation, scraping
about a little bit of paper that lay on the floor with the toe of his boot.

'It _is_ as it may be, and that is as I say, sir; and considering how you
have treated me--your mean, treacherous, and infamous suit, and your cruel
treason to your poor wife, I am amazed at your effrontery.'

I turned to leave him, being, in truth, in one of my passions.

'Don't ye be a flying' out,' he said peremptorily, and catching me roughly
by the wrist,' I baint a-going to vex ye. What a mouth you be, as can't see
your way! Can't ye speak wi' common sense, like a woman--dang it--for once,
and not keep brawling like a brat--can't ye see what I'm saying? I'll take
ye out o' all this, and put ye wi' your cousin, or wheresoever you list, if
ye'll gi'e me what I say.'

He was, for the first time, looking me in the face, but with contracted
eyes, and a countenance very much agitated.

'Money?' said I, with a prompt disdain.

'Ay, money--twenty thousand pounds--_there_. On or off?' he replied, with
an unpleasant sort of effort.

'You ask my promise for twenty thousand pounds, and you shan't have it.'

My cheeks were flaming, and I stamped on the ground as I spoke.

If he had known how to appeal to my better feelings, I am sure I should
have done, perhaps not quite that, all at once at least, but something
handsome, to assist him. But this application was so shabby and insolent!
What could he take me for? That I should suppose his placing me with Cousin
Monica constituted her my guardian? Why, he must fancy me the merest baby.
There was a kind of stupid cunning in this that disgusted my good-nature
and outraged my self-importance.

'You won't gi'e me that, then?' he said, looking down again, with a frown,
and working his mouth and cheeks about as I could fancy a man rolling a
piece of tobacco in his jaw.

'Certainly _not_, sir,' I replied.

'_Take_ it, then,' he replied, still looking down, very black and
discontented.

I joined Mary Quince, extremely angry. As I passed under the carved oak
arch of the vestibule, I saw his figure in the deepening twilight. The
picture remains in its murky halo fixed in memory. Standing where he last
spoke in the centre of the hall, not looking after me, but downward, and,
as well as I could see, with the countenance of a man who has lost a game,
and a ruinous wager too--that is black and desperate. I did not utter a
syllable on the way up. When I reached my room, I began to reconsider the
interview more at my leisure. I was, such were my ruminations, to have
agreed at once to his preposterous offer, and to have been driven, while he
smirked and grimaced behind my back at his acquaintances, through Feltram
in his dog-cart to Elverston; and then, to the just indignation of my
uncle, to have been delivered up to Lady Knolly's guardianship, and to
have handed my driver, as I alighted, the handsome fare of 20.000_l_. It
required the impudence of Tony Lumpkin, without either his fun or his
shrewdness, to have conceived such a prodigious practical joke.

'Maybe you'd like a little tea, Miss?' insinuated Mary Quince.

'What impertinence!' I exclaimed, with one of my angry stamps on the floor.
'Not you, dear old Quince,' I added. 'No--no tea just now.'

And I resumed my ruminations, which soon led me to this train of
thought--'Stupid and insulting as Dudley's proposition was, it yet involved
a great treason against my uncle. Should I be weak enough to be silent, may
he not, wishing to forestall me, misrepresent all that has passed, so as to
throw the blame altogether upon me?'

This idea seized upon me with a force which I could not withstand; and on
the impulse of the moment I obtained admission to my uncle, and related
exactly what had passed. When I had finished my narrative, which he
listened to without once raising his eyes, my uncle cleared his throat once
or twice, as if to speak. He was smiling--I thought with an effort, and
with elevated brows. When I concluded, he hummed one of those sliding
notes, which a less refined man might have expressed by a whistle of
surprise and contempt, and again he essayed to speak, but continued silent.
The fact is, he seemed to me very much disconcerted. He rose from his seat,
and shuffled about the room in his slippers, I believe affecting only to
be in search of something, opening and shutting two or three drawers, and
turning over some books and papers; and at length, taking up some loose
sheets of manuscript, he appeared to have found what he was looking for,
and began to read them carelessly, with his back towards me, and with
another effort to clear his voice, he said at last--

'And pray, what could the fool mean by all that?'

'I think he must have taken me for an idiot, sir,' I answered.

'Not unlikely. He has lived in a stable, among horses and ostlers; he has
always seemed to me something like a centaur--that is a centaur composed
not of man and horse, but of an ape and an ass.'

And upon this jibe he laughed, not coldly and sarcastically, as was his
wont, but, I thought, flurriedly. And, continuing to look into his papers,
he said, his back still toward me as he read--

'And he did not favour you with an exposition of his meaning, which, except
in so far as it estimated his deserts at the modest sum you have
named, appears to me too oracular to be interpreted without a kindred
inspiration?'

And again he laughed. He was growing more like himself.

'As to your visiting your cousin, Lady Knollys, the stupid rogue had only
five minutes before heard me express my wish that you should do so before
leaving this. I am quite resolved you shall--that is, unless, dear Maud,
you should yourself object; but, of course, we must wait for an invitation,
which, I conjecture, will not be long in coming. In fact, your letter
will naturally bring it about, and, I trust, open the way to a permanent
residence with her. The more I think it over, the more am I convinced, dear
niece, that as things are likely to turn out, my roof would be no desirable
shelter for you; and that, under all circumstances, hers would. Such were
my motives, Maud, in opening, through your letter, a door of reconciliation
between us.'

I felt that I ought to have kissed his hand--that he had indicated
precisely the future that I most desired; and yet there was within me a
vague feeling, akin to suspicion--akin to dismay which chilled and overcast
my soul.

'But, Maud,' he said, 'I am disquieted to think of that stupid jackanapes
presuming to make you such an offer! A creditable situation truly--arriving
in the dark at Elverston, under the solitary escort of that wild young man,
with whom you would have fled from my guardianship; and, Maud, I tremble as
I ask myself the question, would he have conducted you to Elverston at all?
When you have lived as long in the world as I, you will appreciate its
wickedness more justly.' Here there was a little pause.

'I know, my dear, that were he convinced of his legal marriage with that
young woman,' he resumed, perceiving how startled I looked, 'such an idea,
of course, would not have entered his head; but he does not believe any
such thing. Contrary to fact and logic, he does honestly think that his
hand is still at his disposal; and I certainly do suspect that he would
have employed that excursion in endeavouring to persuade you to think as he
does. Be that how it may, however, it is satisfactory to me to know that
you shall never more be troubled by one word from that ill-regulated young
man. I made him my adieux, such as they were, this evening; and never more
shall he enter the walls of Bartram-Haugh while we two live.'

Uncle Silas replaced the papers which had ostensibly interested him so
much, and returned. There was a vein which was visible near the angle
of his lofty temple, and in moments of agitation stood out against the
surrounding pallor in a knotted blue cord; and as he came back smiling
askance, I saw this sign of inward tumult.

'We can, however, afford to despise the follies and knaveries of the world,
Maud, as long as we act, as we have hitherto done, with perfect confidence
in each other. Heaven bless you, dear Maud! Your report troubled me, I
believe, more than it need--troubled me a good deal; but reflection assures
me it is nothing. He is gone. In a few days' time he will be on the sea. I
will issue my orders to-morrow morning, and he will never more, during his
brief stay in England, gain admission to Bartram-Haugh. Good-night, my good
niece; I thank you.'

And so I returned to Mary Quince, on the whole happier than I had left
her, but still with the confused and jarring vision I could not interpret
perpetually rising before me; and as, from time to time, shapeless
anxieties agitated me, relieving them by appeals to Him who alone is wise
and strong.

Next day brought me a goodnatured gossiping letter from dear Milly,
written in compulsory French, which was, in some places, very difficult
to interpret. She gave me a very pleasant account of the place, and her
opinion of the girls who were inmates, and mentioned some of the nuns with
high commendation. The language plainly cramped poor Milly's genius; but
although there was by no means so much fun as an honest English letter
would have brought me, there could be no mistake about her liking the
place, and she expressed her honest longing to see me in the most
affectionate terms.

This letter came enclosed in one to my uncle, from the proper authority
in the convent; and as there was neither address within, nor post-mark
without, I was as much in the dark as ever as to poor Milly's whereabouts.

Pencilled across the envelope of this letter, in my uncle's hand, were the
words, 'Let me have your answer when sealed, and I will transmit it.--S.R.'

When, accordingly, some days later, I did place my letter to Milly in my
uncle's hands, he told me the reason of his reserves on the subject.

'I thought it best, dear Maud, not to plague you with a secret, and Milly's
present address is one. It will in a few weeks become the rallying-point of
our diverse routes, when you shall meet her, and I join you both. Nobody,
until the storm shall have blown over, must know where I am to be found,
except my lawyer; and I think you would prefer ignorance to the trouble of
keeping a secret on which so much may depend.'

This being reasonable, and even considerate, I acquiesced.

In that interval there reached me such a charming, gay, and affectionate
letter--a very _long_ letter, too--though the writer was scarcely seven
miles away, from dear Cousin Monica, full of pleasant gossip, and
rose-coloured and golden castles in the air, and the kindest interest in
poor Milly, and the warmest affection for me.

One other incident varied that interval, if possible more pleasantly than
those. It was the announcement, in a Liverpool paper, of the departure of
the _Seamew_, bound for Melbourne; and among the passengers were reported
'Dudley Ruthyn, Esquire, of Bartram-H., and Mrs. D. Ruthyn.'

And now I began to breathe freely, I plainly saw the end of my probation
approaching: a short excursion to France, a happy meeting with Milly, and
then a delightful residence with Cousin Monica for the remainder of my
nonage.

You will say then that my spirits and my serenity were quite restored. Not
quite. How marvellously lie our anxieties, in filmy layers, one over the
other! Take away that which has lain on the upper surface for so long--the
care of cares--the only one, as it seemed to you, between your soul and the
radiance of Heaven--and straight you find a new stratum there. As physical
science tells us no fluid is without its skin, so does it seem with this
fine medium of the soul, and these successive films of care that form upon
its surface on mere contact with the upper air and light.

What was my new trouble? A very fantastic one, you will say--the illusion
of a self-tormentor. It was the face of Uncle Silas which haunted me.
Notwithstanding the old pale smile, there was a shrinking grimness, and the
always-averted look.

Sometimes I fancied his mind was disordered. I could not account for the
eerie lights and shadows that flickered on his face, except so. There was
a look of shame and fear of me, amazing as that seems, in the sheen of his
peaked smile.

I thought, 'Perhaps he blames himself for having tolerated Dudley's
suit--for having urged it on grounds of personal distress--for having
altogether lowered, though under sore temptation, both himself and his
office; and he thinks that he has forfeited my respect.'

Such was my analysis; but in the _coup-d'oeil_ of that white face that
dazzled me in darkness, and haunted my daily reveries with a faded light,
there was an intangible character of the insidious and the terrible.




CHAPTER LIV

_IN SEARCH OF MR. CHARKE'S SKELETON_


On the whole, however, I was unspeakably relieved. Dudley Ruthyn, Esq.,
and Mrs. D. Ruthyn, were now skimming the blue waves on the wings of the
_Seamew_, and every morning widened the distance between us, which was to
go on increasing until it measured a point on the antipodes. The Liverpool
paper containing this golden line was carefully preserved in my room; and
like the gentleman who, when much tried by the shrewish heiress whom he
had married, used to retire to his closet and read over his marriage
settlement, I used, when blue devils haunted me, to unfold my newspaper and
read the paragraph concerning the _Seamew_.

The day I now speak of was a dismal one of sleety snow. My own room seemed
to me cheerier than the lonely parlour, where I could not have had good
Mary Quince so decorously.

A good fire, that kind and trusty face, the peep I had just indulged in at
my favourite paragraph, and the certainty of soon seeing my dear cousin
Monica, and afterwards affectionate Milly, raised my spirits.

'So,' said I, 'as old Wyat, you say, is laid up with rheumatism, and can't
turn up to scold me, I think I'll run up stairs and make an exploration,
and find poor Mr. Charke's skeleton in a closet.'

'Oh, law, Miss Maud, how can you say such things!' exclaimed good old
Quince, lifting up her honest grey head and round eyes from her knitting.

I had grown so familiar with the frightful tradition of Mr. Charke and his
suicide, that I could now afford to frighten old Quince with him.

'I am quite serious. I am going to have a ramble up-stairs and down-stairs,
like goosey-goosey-gander; and if I do light upon his chamber, it is all
the more interesting. I feel so like Adelaide, in the "Romance of the
Forest," the book I was reading to you last night, when she commenced her
delightful rambles through the interminable ruined abbey in the forest.'

'Shall I go with you, Miss?'

'No, Quince; stay there; keep a good fire, and make some tea. I suspect I
shall lose heart and return very soon;' and with a shawl about me, cowl
fashion, over my head, I stole up-stairs.

I shall not recount with the particularity of the conscientious heroine of
Mrs. Ann Radcliffe, all the suites of apartments, corridors, and lobbies,
which I threaded in my ramble. It will be enough to mention that I lighted
upon a door at the end of a long gallery, which, I think, ran parallel with
the front of the house; it interested me because it had the air of having
been very long undisturbed. There were two rusty bolts, which did not
evidently belong to its original securities, and had been, though very long
ago, somewhat clumsily superadded. Dusty and rusty they were, but I had no
difficulty in drawing them back. There was a rusty key, I remember it well,
with a crooked handle in the lock; I tried to turn it, but could not.
My curiosity was piqued. I was thinking of going back and getting Mary
Quince's assistance. It struck me, however, that possibly it was not
locked, so I pulled the door and it opened quite easily. I did not find
myself in a strangely-furnished suite of apartments, but at the entrance
of a gallery, which diverged at right angles from that through which I had
just passed; it was very imperfectly lighted, and ended in total darkness.

I began to think how far I had already come, and to consider whether I
could retrace my steps with accuracy in case of a panic, and I had serious
thoughts of returning.

The idea of Mr. Charke was growing unpleasantly sharp and menacing; and
as I looked down the long space before me, losing itself among ambiguous
shadows, lulled in a sinister silence, and as it were inviting my entrance
like a trap, I was very near yielding to the cowardly impulse.

But I took heart of grace and determined to see a little more. I opened a
side-door, and entered a large room, where were, in a corner, some rusty
and cobwebbed bird-cages, but nothing more. It was a wainscoted room, but
a white mildew stained the panels. I looked from the window: it commanded
that dismal, weed-choked quadrangle into which I had once looked from
another window. I opened a door at its farther end, and entered another
chamber, not quite so large, but equally dismal, with the same prison-like
look-out, not very easily discerned through the grimy panes and the sleet
that was falling thickly outside. The door through which I had entered made
a little accidental creak, and, with my heart at my lips, I gazed at it,
expecting to see Charke, or the skeleton of which I had talked so lightly,
stalk in at the half-open aperture. But I had an odd sort of courage which
was always fighting against my cowardly nerves, and I walked to the door,
and looking up and down the dismal passage, was reassured.

Well, one room more--just that whose deep-set door fronted me, with a
melancholy frown, at the opposite end of the chamber. So to it I glided,
shoved it open, advancing one step, and the great bony figure of Madame de
la Rougierre was before me.

I could see nothing else.

The drowsy traveller who opens his sheets to slip into bed, and sees a
scorpion coiled between them, may have experienced a shock the same in
kind, but immeasurably less in degree.

She sat in a clumsy old arm-chair, with an ancient shawl about her, and
her bare feet in a delft tub. She looked a thought more withered. Her wig
shoved back disclosed her bald wrinkled forehead, and enhanced the ugly
effect of her exaggerated features and the gaunt hollows of her face. With
a sense of incredulity and terror I gazed, freezing, at this evil phantom,
who returned my stare for a few seconds with a shrinking scowl, dismal and
grim, as of an evil spirit detected.

The meeting, at least then and there, was as complete a surprise for her as
for me. She could not tell how I might take it; but she quickly rallied,
burst into a loud screeching laugh, and, with her old Walpurgis gaiety,
danced some fantastic steps in her bare wet feet, tracking the floor with
water, and holding out with finger and thumb, in dainty caricature, her
slammakin old skirt, while she sang some of her nasal patois with an
abominable hilarity and emphasis.

With a gasp, I too recovered from the fascination of the surprise. I could
not speak though for some seconds, and Madame was first.

'Ah, dear Maud, what surprise! Are we not overjoy, dearest, and cannot
speak? I am full of joy--quite charmed--_ravie_--of seeing you. So are you
of me, your face betray. Ah! yes, thou dear little baboon! here is poor
Madame once more! Who could have imagine?'

'I thought you were in France, Madame,' I said, with a dismal effort.

'And so I was, dear Maud; I 'av just arrive. Your uncle Silas he wrote to
the superioress for gouvernante to accompany a young lady--that is you,
Maud--on her journey, and she send me; and so, ma chère, here is poor
Madame arrive to charge herself of that affair.'

'How soon do we leave for France, Madame?' I asked.

'I do not know, but the old women--wat is her name?'

'Wyat,' I suggested.

'Oh! oui, Waiatt;--she says two, three week. And who conduct you to poor
Madame's apartment, my dear Maud?' She inquired insinuatingly.

'No one, I answered promptly: 'I reached it quite accidentally, and I
can't imagine why you should conceal yourself.' Something like indignation
kindled in my mind as I began to wonder at the sly strategy which had been
practised upon me.

'I 'av not conceal myself, Mademoiselle,' retorted the governness. 'I 'av
act precisally as I 'av been ordered. Your uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn, he is
afraid, Waiatt says, to be interrupted by his creditors, and everything
must be done very quaitly. I have been commanded to avoid _me faire voir_,
you know, and I must obey my employer--voilà tout!'

'And for how long have you been residing here?' I persisted, in the same
resentful vein.

''Bout a week. It is soche triste place! I am so glad to see you, Maud!
I've been so isolée, you dear leetle fool!'

'You are _not_ glad, Madame; you don't love me--you never did,' I exclaimed
with sudden vehemence.

'Yes, I am _very_ glad; you know not, chère petite _niaise_, how I 'av
desire to educate you a leetle more. Let us understand one another. You
think I do not love you, Mademoiselle, because you have mentioned to your
poor papa that little _dérèglement_ in his library. I have repent very
often that so great indiscretion of my life. I thought to find some letters
of Dr. Braierly. I think that man was trying to get your property, my dear
Maud, and if I had found something I would tell you all about. But it was
very great _sottise_, and you were very right to denounce me to Monsieur.
Je n'ai point de rancune contre vous. No, no, none at all. On the contrary,
I shall be your _gardienne tutelaire_--wat you call?--guardian angel--ah,
yes, that is it. You think I speak _par dérision_; not at all. No, my dear
cheaile, I do not speak _par moquerie_, unless perhaps the very least
degree in the world.'

And with these words Madame laughed unpleasantly, showing the black caverns
at the side of her mouth, and with a cold, steady malignity in her gaze.

'Yes,' I said; 'I know what you mean, Madame--you _hate_ me.'

'Oh! wat great ogly word! I am shock! _vous me faites honte_. Poor Madame,
she never hate any one; she loves all her friends, and her enemies she
leaves to Heaven; while I am, as you see, more gay, more _joyeuse_ than
ever, they have not been 'appy--no, they have not been fortunate these
others. Wen I return, I find always some of my enemy they 'av die, and some
they have put themselves into embarrassment, or there has arrived to them
some misfortune;' and Madame shrugged and laughed a little scornfully.

A kind of horror chilled my rising anger, and I was silent.

'You see, my dear Maud, it is very natural you should think I hate you.
When I was with Mr. Austin Ruthyn, at Knowl, you know you did not like a
me--never. But in consequence of our intimacy I confide you that which I
'av of most dear in the world, my reputation. It is always so. The pupil
can _calomniate_, without been discover, the gouvernante. 'Av I not been
always kind to you, Maud? Which 'av I use of violence or of sweetness the
most? I am, like other persons, _jalouse de ma réputation_; and it was
difficult to suffer with patience the banishment which was invoked by you,
because chiefly for your good, and for an indiscretion to which I was
excited by motives the most pure and laudable. It was you who spied so
cleverly--eh! and denounce me to Monsieur Ruthyn? Helas! wat bad world it
is!'

'I do not mean to speak at all about that occurrence, Madame; I will not
discuss it. I dare say what you tell me of the cause of your engagement
here is true, and I suppose we must travel, as you say, in company; but
you must know that the less we see of each other while in this house the
better.'

'I am not so sure of that, my sweet little _béte_; your education has been
neglected, or rather entirely abandoned, since you 'av arrive at this
place, I am told. You must not be a _bestiole_. We must do, you and I, as
we are ordered. Mr. Silas Ruthyn he will tell us.'

All this time Madame was pulling on her stockings, getting her boots on,
and otherwise proceeding with her dowdy toilet. I do not know why I stood
there talking to her. We often act very differently from what we would
have done upon reflection. I had involved myself in a dialogue, as wiser
generals than I have entangled themselves in a general action when they
meant only an affair of outposts. I had grown a little angry, and would
not betray the least symptom of fear, although I felt that sensation
profoundly.

'My beloved father thought you so unfit a companion for me that he
dismissed you at an hour's notice, and I am very sure that my uncle will
think as he did; you are _not_ a fit companion for me, and had my
uncle known what had passed he would never have admitted you to this
house--never!'

'Helas! _Quelle disgrace_! And you really think so, my dear Maud,'
exclaimed Madame, adjusting her wig before her glass, in the corner of
which I could see half of her sly, grinning face, as she ogled herself in
it.

'I do, and so do you, Madame,' I replied, growing more frightened.

'It may be--we shall see; but everyone is not so cruel as you, _ma chère
petite calomniatrice_.'

'You shan't call me those names,' I said, in an angry tremor.

'What name, dearest cheaile?'

'_Calomniatrice_--that is an insult.'

'Why, my most foolish little Maud, we may say rogue, and a thousand other
little words in play which we do not say seriously.

'You are not playing--you never play--you are angry, and you hate me,' I
exclaimed, vehemently.

'Oh, fie!--wat shame! Do you not perceive, dearest cheaile, how much
education you still need? You are proud, little demoiselle; you must
become, on the contrary, quaite humble. Je ferai baiser le babouin à
vous--ha, ha, ha! I weel make a you to kees the monkey. You are too proud,
my dear cheaile.'

'I am not such a fool as I was at Knowl,' I said; 'you shall not terrify me
here. I will tell my uncle the whole truth,' I said.

'Well, it may be that is the best,' she replied, with provoking coolness.

'You think I don't mean it?'

'Of course you _do_,' she replied.

'And we shall see what my uncle thinks of it.'

'We shall see, my dear,' she replied, with an air of mock contrition.

'Adieu, Madame!'

'You are going to Monsieur Ruthyn?--very good!'

I made her no answer, but more agitated than I cared to show her, I left
the room. I hurried along the twilight passage, and turned into the long
gallery that opened from it at right angles. I had not gone half-a-dozen
steps on my return when I heard a heavy tread and a rustling behind me.

'I am ready, my dear; I weel accompany you,' said the smirking phantom,
hurrying after me.

'Very well,' was my reply; and threading our way, with a few hesitations
and mistakes, we reached and descended the stairs, and in a minute more
stood at my uncle's door.

My uncle looked hard and strangely at us as we entered. He looked, indeed,
as if his temper was violently excited, and glared and muttered to himself
for a few seconds; and treating Madame to a stare of disgust, he asked
peevishly--

'Why am I disturbed, pray?'

'Miss Maud a Ruthyn, she weel explain,' replied Madame, with a great
courtesy, like a boat going down in a ground swell.

'_Will_ you explain, my dear?' he asked, in his coldest and most sarcastic
tone.

I was agitated, and I am sure my statement was confused. I succeeded,
however, in saying what I wanted.

'Why, Madame, this is a grave charge! Do you admit it, pray?'

Madame, with the coolest possible effrontery, denied it all; with the most
solemn asseverations, and with streaming eyes and clasped hands, conjured
me melodramatically to withdraw that intolerable story, and to do her
justice. I stared at her for a while astounded, and turning suddenly to my
uncle, as vehemently asserted the truth of every syllable I had related.

'You hear, my dear child, you hear her deny everything; what am I to think?
You must excuse the bewilderment of my old head. Madame de la--that lady
has arrived excellently recommended by the superioress of the place where
dear Milly awaits you, and such persons are particular. It strikes me, my
dear niece, that you must have made a mistake.'

I protested here. But he went on without seeming to hear the parenthesis--

'I know, my dear Maud, that you are quite incapable of wilfully deceiving
anyone; but you are liable to be deceived like other young people. You
were, no doubt, very nervous, and but half awake when you fancied you saw
the occurrence you describe; and Madame de--de--'

'De la Rougierre,' I supplied.

'Yes, thank you--Madame de la Rougierre, who has arrived with excellent
testimonials, strenuously denies the whole thing. Here is a conflict, my
dear--in my mind a presumption of mistake. I confess I should prefer that
theory to a peremptory assumption of guilt.'

I felt incredulous and amazed; it seemed as if a dream were being enacted
before me. A transaction of the most serious import, which I had witnessed
with my own eyes, and described with unexceptionable minuteness and
consistency, is discredited by that strange and suspicious old man with
an imbecile coolness. It was quite in vain my reiterating my statement,
backing it with the most earnest asseverations. I was beating the air. It
did not seem to reach his mind. It was all received with a simper of feeble
incredulity.

He patted and smoothed my head--he laughed gently, and shook his while
I insisted; and Madame protested her purity in now tranquil floods
of innocent tears, and murmured mild and melancholy prayers for my
enlightenment and reformation. I felt as if I should lose my reason.

'There now, dear Maud, we have heard enough; it is, I do believe, a
delusion. Madame de la Rougierre will be your companion, at the utmost, for
three or four weeks. Do exercise a little of your self-command and
good sense--you know how I am tortured. Do not, I entreat, add to my
perplexities. You may make yourself very happy with Madame if you will, I
have no doubt.'

'I propose to Mademoiselle,' said Madame, drying her eyes with a gentle
alacrity, 'to profit of my visit for her education. But she does not seem
to weesh wat I think is so useful.'

'She threatened me with some horrid French vulgarism--_de faire baiser le
babouin à moi_, whatever that means; and I know she hates me,' I replied,
impetuously.

'Doucement--doucement!' said my uncle, with a smile at once amused and
compassionate. 'Doucement! ma chère.'

With great hands and cunning eyes uplifted, Madame tearfully--for her tears
came on short notice--again protested her absolute innocence. She had never
in all her life so much as heard one so villain phrase.

'You see, my dear, you have misheard; young people never attend. You will
do well to take advantage of Madame's short residence to get up your French
a little, and the more you are with her the better.'

'I understand then, Mr. Ruthyn, you weesh I should resume my instructions?'
asked Madame.

'Certainly; and converse all you can in French with Mademoiselle Maud. You
will be glad, my dear, that I've insisted on it,' he said, turning to me,
'when you have reached France, where you will find they speak nothing else.
And now, dear Maud--no, not a word more--you must leave me. Farewell,
Madame!'

And he waved us out a little impatiently; and I, without one look toward
Madame de la Rougierre, stunned and incensed, walked into my room and shut
the door.




CHAPTER LV

_THE FOOT OF HERCULES_


I stood at the window--still the same leaden sky and feathery sleet before
me--trying to estimate the magnitude of the discovery I had just made.
Gradually a kind of despair seized me, and I threw myself passionately on
my bed, weeping aloud.

Good Mary Quince was, of course, beside me in a moment, with her pale,
concerned face.

'Oh, Mary, Mary, she's come--that dreadful woman, Madame de la Rougierre,
has come to be my governess again; and Uncle Silas won't hear or believe
anything about her. It is vain talking; he is prepossessed. Was ever so
unfortunate a creature as I? Who could have fancied or feared such a thing?
Oh, Mary, Mary, what am I to do? what is to become of me? Am I never to
shake off that vindictive, terrible woman?'

Mary said all she could to console me. I was making too much of her. What
was she, after all, more than a governess?--she could not hurt me. I was
not a child no longer--she could not bully me now; and my uncle, though he
might be deceived for a while, would not be long finding her out.

Thus and soforth did good Mary Quince declaim, and at last she did impress
me a little, and I began to think that I had, perhaps, been making too much
of Madame's visit. But still imagination, that instrument and mirror
of prophecy, showed her formidable image always on its surface, with a
terrible moving background of shadows.

In a few minutes there was a knock at my door, and Madame herself entered.
She was in walking costume. There had been a brief clearing of the weather,
and she proposed our making a promenade together.

On seeing Mary Quince she broke into a rapture of compliment and greeting,
and took what Mr. Richardson would have called her passive hand, and
pressed it with wonderful tenderness.

Honest Mary suffered all this somewhat reluctantly, never smiling, and, on
the contrary, looking rather ruefully at her feet.

'Weel you make a some tea? When I come back, dear Mary Quince, I 'av so
much to tell you and dear Miss Maud of all my adventures while I 'av been
away; it will make a you laugh ever so much. I was--what you theenk?--near,
ever so near to be married!' And upon this she broke into a screeching
laugh, and shook Mary Quince merrily by the shoulder.

I sullenly declined going out, or rising; and when she had gone away, I
told Mary that I should confine myself to my room while Madame stayed.

But self-denying ordinances self-imposed are not always long observed by
youth. Madame de la Rougierre laid herself out to be agreeable; she had no
end of stories--more than half, no doubt, pure fictions--to tell, but all,
in that triste place, amusing. Mary Quince began to entertain a better
opinion of her. She actually helped to make beds, and tried to be in
every way of use, and seemed to have quite turned over a new leaf; and so
gradually she moved me, first to listen, and at last to talk.

On the whole, these terms were better than a perpetual skirmish; but,
notwithstanding all her gossip and friendliness, I continued to have a
profound distrust and even terror of her.

She seemed curious about the Bartram-Haugh family, and all their ways, and
listened darkly when I spoke. I told her, bit by bit, the whole story of
Dudley, and she used, whenever there was news of the Seamew, to read the
paragraph for my benefit; and in poor Milly's battered little Atlas she
used to trace the ship's course with a pencil, writing in, from point to
point, the date at which the vessel was 'spoken' at sea. She seemed amused
at the irrepressible satisfaction with which I received these minutes of
his progress; and she used to calculate the distance;--on such a day he was
two hundred and sixty miles, on such another five hundred; the last point
was more than eight hundred--good, better, best--best of all would be those
'deleecious antipode, w'ere he would so soon promener on his head twelve
thousand mile away;' and at the conceit she would fall into screams of
laughter.

Laugh as she might, however, there was substantial comfort in thinking
of the boundless stretch of blue wave that rolled between me and that
villainous cousin.

I was now on very odd terms with Madame. She had not relapsed into her
favourite vein of oracular sarcasm and menace; she had, on the contrary,
affected her good-humoured and genial vein. But I was not to be deceived
by this. I carried in my heart that deep-seated fear of her which her
unpleasant good-humour and gaiety never disturbed for a moment. I was very
glad, therefore, when she went to Todcaster by rail, to make some purchases
for the journey which we were daily expecting to commence; and happy in the
opportunity of a walk, good old Mary Quince and I set forth for a little
ramble.

As I wished to make some purchases in Feltram, I set out, with Mary Quince
for my companion. On reaching the great gate we found it locked. The key,
however, was in it, and as it required more than the strength of my hand to
turn, Mary tried it. At the same moment old Crowle came out of the sombre
lodge by its side, swallowing down a mouthful of his dinner in haste. No
one, I believe, liked the long suspicious face of the old man, seldom shorn
or washed, and furrowed with great, grimy perpendicular wrinkles. Leering
fiercely at Mary, not pretending to see me, he wiped his mouth hurriedly
with the back of his hand, and growled--

'Drop it.'

'Open it, please, Mr. Crowle,' said Mary, renouncing the task.

Crowle wiped his mouth as before, looking inauspicious; shuffling to the
spot, and muttering to himself, he first satisfied himself that the lock
was fast, and then lodged the key in his coat-pocket, and still muttering,
retraced his steps.

'We want the gate open, please,' said Mary.

No answer.

'Miss Maud wants to go into the town,' she insisted.

'We wants many a thing we can't get,' he growled, stepping into his
habitation.

'Please open the gate,' I said, advancing.

He half turned on his threshold, and made a dumb show of touching his hat,
although he had none on.

'Can't, ma'am; without an order from master, no one goes out here.'

'You won't allow me and my maid to pass the gate?' I said.

''Tisn't _me_, ma'am,' said he; 'but I can't break orders, and no one goes
out without the master allows.'

And without awaiting further parley, he entered, shutting his hatch behind
him.

So Mary and I stood, looking very foolish at one another. This was the
first restraint I had experienced since Milly and I had been refused a
passage through the Windmill paling. The rule, however, on which Crowle
insisted I felt confident could not have been intended to apply to me. A
word to Uncle Silas would set all right; and in the meantime I proposed to
Mary that we should take a walk--my favourite ramble--into the Windmill
Wood.

I looked toward Dickon's farmstead as we passed, thinking that Beauty might
have been there. I did see the girl, who was plainly watching us. She stood
in the doorway of the cottage, withdrawn into the shade, and, I fancied,
anxious to escape observation. When we had passed on a little, I was
confirmed in that belief by seeing her run down the footpath which led from
the rear of the farm-yard in the direction contrary to that in which we
were moving.

'So,' I thought, 'poor Meg falls from me!'

Mary Quince and I rambled on through the wood, till we reached the windmill
itself, and seeing its low arched door open, we entered the chiaro-oscuro
of its circular basement. As we did so I heard a rush and the creak of a
plank, and looking up, I saw just a foot--no more--disappearing through the
trap-door.

In the case of one we love or fear intensely, what feats of comparative
anatomy will not the mind unconsciously perform? Constructing the whole
living animal from the turn of an elbow, the curl of a whisker, a segment
of a hand. How instantaneous and unerring is the instinct!

'Oh, Mary, what have I seen!' I whispered, recovering from the fascination
that held my gaze fast to the topmost rounds of the ladder, that
disappeared in the darkness above the open door in the loft. 'Come,
Mary--come away.'

At the same instant appeared the swarthy, sullen face of Dickon Hawkes in
the shadow of the aperture. Having but one serviceable leg, his descent
was slow and awkward, and having got his head to the level of the loft he
stopped to touch his hat to me, and to hasp and lock the trap-door.

When this was done, the man again touched his hat, and looked steadily and
searchingly at me for a second or so, while he got the key into his pocket.

'These fellahs stores their flour too long 'ere, ma'am. There's a deal o'
trouble a-looking arter it. I'll talk wi' Silas, and settle that.'

By this time he had got upon the worn-tiled floor, and touching his hat
again, he said--

'I'm a-goin' to lock the door, ma'am!'

So with a start, and again whispering--

'Come, Mary--come away'--

With my arm fast in hers, we made a swift departure.

'I feel very faint, Mary,' said I. 'Come quickly. There's nobody following
us?'

'No, Miss, dear. That man with the wooden leg is putting a padlock on the
door.'

'Come _very_ fast,' I said; and when we had got a little farther, I said,
'Look again, and see whether anyone is following.'

'No one, Miss,' answered Mary, plainly surprised. 'He's putting the key in
his pocket, and standin' there a-lookin' after us.'

'Oh, Mary, did not you see it?'

'What, Miss?' asked Mary, almost stopping.

'Come on, Mary. Don't pause. They will observe us,' I whispered, hurrying
her forward.

'What did you see, Miss?' repeated Mary.

'_Mr. Dudley_,' I whispered, with a terrified emphasis, not daring to turn
my head as I spoke.

'Lawk, Miss!' remonstrated honest Quince, with a protracted intonation
of wonder and incredulity, which plainly implied a suspicion that I was
dreaming.

'Yes, Mary. When we went into that dreadful room--that dark, round place--I
saw his foot on the ladder. _His_ foot, Mary I can't be mistaken. _I won't
be questioned_. You'll _find_ I'm right. He's _here_. He never went in
that ship at all. A fraud has been practised on me--it is infamous--it
is terrible. I'm frightened out of my life. For heaven's sake, look back
again, and tell me what you see.'

'_Nothing_, Miss,' answered Mary, in contagious whispers, 'but that
wooden-legged chap, standin' hard by the door.'

'And no one with him?'

'No one, Miss.'

We got without pursuit through the gate in the paling. I drew breath so
soon as we had reached the cover of the thicket near the chestnut hollow,
and I began to reflect that whoever the owner of the foot might be--and
I was still instinctively certain that it was no other than
Dudley--concealment was plainly his object. I need not, then, be at all
uneasy lest he should pursue us.

As we walked slowly and in silence along the grassy footpath, I heard a
voice calling my name from behind. Mary Quince had not heard it at all, but
I was quite certain.

It was repeated twice or thrice, and, looking in considerable doubt and
trepidation under the hanging boughs, I saw Beauty, not ten yards away,
standing among the underwood.

I remember how white the eyes and teeth of the swarthy girl looked, as with
hand uplifted toward her ear, she watched us while, as it seemed, listening
for more distant sounds.

Beauty beckoned eagerly to me, advancing, with looks of great fear and
anxiety, two or three short steps toward me.

'_She_ baint to come,' said Beauty, under her breath, so soon as I had
nearly reached her, pointing without raising her hand at Mary Quince.

'Tell her to sit on the ash-tree stump down yonder, and call ye as loud as
she can if she sees any fellah a-comin' this way, an' rin ye back to me;'
and she impatiently beckoned me away on her errand.

When I returned, having made this dispositions, I perceived how pale the
girl was.

'Are you ill, Meg?' I asked.

'Never ye mind. Well enough. Listen, Miss; I must tell it all in a crack,
an' if she calls, rin awa' to her, and le' me to myself, for if fayther or
t'other un wor to kotch me here, I think they'd kill me a'most. Hish!'

She paused a second, looking askance, in the direction where she fancied
Mary Quince was. Then she resumed in a whisper--

'Now, lass, mind ye, ye'll keep what I say to yourself. You're not to tell
that un nor any other for your life, mind, a word o' what I'm goin' to tell
ye.'

'I'll not say a word. Go on.'

'Did ye see Dudley?'

'I think I saw him getting up the ladder.'

'In the mill? Ha! that's him. He never went beyond Todcaster. He staid in
Feltram after.'

It was my turn to look pale now. My worst conjecture was established.




CHAPTER LVI

_I CONSPIRE_


'That's a bad un, he is--oh, Miss, Miss Maud! It's nout that's good as
keeps him an' fayther--(mind, lass, ye promised you would not tell no
one)--as keeps them two a-talkin' and a-smokin' secret-like together in the
mill. An' fayther don't know I found him out. They don't let me into the
town, but Brice tells me, and he knows it's Dudley; and it's nout that's
good, but summat very bad. An' I reckon, Miss, it's all about you. Be ye
frightened, Miss Maud?'

I felt on the point of fainting, but I rallied.

'Not much, Meg. Go on, for Heaven's sake. Does Uncle Silas know he is
here?'

'Well, Miss, they were with him, Brice told me, from eleven o'clock to nigh
one o' Tuesday night, an' went in and come out like thieves, 'feard ye'd
see 'em.'

'And how does Brice know anything bad?' I asked, with a strange freezing
sensation creeping from my heels to my head and down again--I am sure
deadly pale, but speaking very collectedly.

'Brice said, Miss, he saw Dudley a-cryin' and lookin' awful black, and says
he to fayther, "'Tisn't in my line nohow, an' I can't;" and says fayther
to he, "No one likes they soart o' things, but how can ye help it? The old
boy's behind ye wi' his pitchfork, and ye canna stop." An' wi' that he
bethought him o' Brice, and says he, "What be ye a-doin' there? Get ye down
wi' the nags to blacksmith, do ye." An' oop gits Dudley, pullin' his hat
ower his brows, an' says he, "I wish I was in the _Seamew_. I'm good for
nout wi' this thing a-hangin' ower me." An' that's all as Brice heard. An'
he's afeard o' fayther and Dudley awful. Dudley could lick him to pot if
he crossed him, and he and fayther 'ud think nout o' havin' him afore the
justices for poachin', and swearin' him into gaol.'

'But why does he think it's about _me_?'

'Hish!' said Meg, who fancied she heard a sound, but all was quiet. 'I
can't say--we're in danger, lass. I don't know why--but _he_ does, an' so
do I, an', for that matter, so do _ye_.'

'Meg, I'll leave Bartram.'

'Ye can't.'

'Can't. What do you mean, girl?'

'They won't let ye oot. The gates is all locked. They've dogs--they've
bloodhounds, Brice says. Ye _can't_ git oot, mind; put that oot o' your
head.

'I tell ye what ye'll do. Write a bit o' a note to the lady yonder at
Elverston; an' though Brice be a wild fellah, and 'appen not ower good
sometimes, he likes me, an' I'll make him take it. Fayther will be grindin'
at mill to-morrow. Coom ye here about one o'clock--that's if ye see the
mill-sails a-turnin'--and me and Brice will meet ye here. Bring that old
lass wi' ye. There's an old French un, though, that talks wi' Dudley. Mind
ye, that un knows nout o' the matter. Brice be a kind lad to me, whatsoe'er
he be wi' others, and I think he won't split. Now, lass, I must go. God
help ye; God bless ye; an', for the world's wealth, don't ye let one o'
them see ye've got ought in your head, not even that un.'

Before I could say another word, the girl had glided from me, with a wild
gesture of silence, and a shake of her head.

I can't at all account for the state in which I was. There are resources
both of energy and endurance in human nature which we never suspect until
the tremendous voice of necessity summons them into play. Petrified with a
totally new horror, but with something of the coldness and impassiveness of
the transformation, I stood, spoke, and acted--a wonder, almost a terror,
to myself.

I met Madame on my return as if nothing had happened. I heard her ugly
gabble, and looked at the fruits of her hour's shopping, as I might hear,
and see, and talk, and smile, in a dream.

But the night was dreadful. When Mary Quince and I were alone, I locked
the door. I continued walking up and down the room, with my hands clasped,
looking at the inexorable floor, the walls, the ceiling, with a sort
of imploring despair. I was afraid to tell my dear old Mary. The least
indiscretion would be failure, and failure destruction.

I answered her perplexed solicitudes by telling her that I was not very
well--that I was uneasy; but I did not fail to extract from her a promise
that she would not hint to mortal, either my suspicions about Dudley, or
our rencontre with Meg Hawkes.

I remember how, when, after we had got, late at night, into bed, I sat up,
shivering with horror, in mine, while honest Mary's tranquil breathing told
how soundly she slept. I got up, and looked from the window, expecting to
see some of those wolfish dogs which they had brought to the place prowling
about the court-yard. Sometimes I prayed, and felt tranquillised, and
fancied that I was perhaps to have a short interval of sleep. But the
serenity was delusive, and all the time my nerves were strung hysterically.
Sometimes I felt quite wild, and on the point of screaming. At length that
dreadful night passed away. Morning came, and a less morbid, though hardly
a less terrible state of mind. Madame paid me an early visit. A thought
struck me. I knew that she loved shopping, and I said, quite carelessly--

'Your yesterday's shopping tempts me, Madame, and I must get a few things
before we leave for France. Suppose we go into Feltram to-day, and make my
purchases, you and I?'

She looked from the corner of her cunning eye in my face without answering.
I did not blench, and she said--

'Vary good. I would be vary 'appy,' and again she looked oddly at me.

'Wat hour, my dear Maud? One o'clock? I think that weel de very well, eh?'

I assented, and she grew silent.

I wonder whether I did look as careless as I tried. I do not know. Through
the whole of this awful period I was, I think, supernatural; and I even now
look back with wonder upon my strange self-command.

Madame, I hoped, had heard nothing of the order which prohibited my exit
from the place. She would herself conduct me to Feltram, and secure, by
accompanying me, my free egress.

Once in Feltram, I would assert my freedom, and manage to reach my dear
cousin Knollys. Back to Bartram no power should convey me. My heart swelled
and fluttered in the awful suspense of that hour.

Oh, Bartram-Haugh! how came you by those lofty walls? Which of my ancestors
had begirt me with an impassable barrier in this horrible strait?

Suddenly I remembered my letter to Lady Knollys. If I were disappointed in
effecting my escape through Feltram, all would depend upon it.

Having locked my door, I wrote as follows:--

'Oh, my beloved cousin, as you hope for comfort in _your_ hour of fear, aid
me now. Dudley has returned, and is secreted somewhere about the grounds.
It is a _fraud_. They all pretend to me that he is gone away in the
_Seamew_; and he or they had his name published as one of the passengers.
Madame de la Rougierre has appeared! She is here, and my uncle insists on
making her my close companion. I am at my wits' ends. I cannot escape--the
walls are a prison; and I believe the eyes of my gaolers are always upon
me. Dogs are kept for pursuit--yes, _dogs_! and the gates are locked
against my escape. God help me! I don't know where to look, or whom to
trust. I fear my uncle more than all. I think I could bear this better if I
knew what their plans are, even the worst. If ever you loved or pitied me,
dear cousin, I conjure you, help me in this extremity. Take me away from
this. Oh, darling, for God's sake take me away!

'Your distracted and terrified cousin,

MAUD'

'Bartram-Haugh.'

I sealed this letter jealously, as if the inanimate missive would burst its
cerements, and proclaim my desperate appeal through all the chambers and
passages of silent Bartram.

Old Quince, greatly to cousin Monica's amusement, persisted in furnishing
me with those capacious pockets which belonged to a former generation. I
was glad of this old-world eccentricity now, and placed my guilty letter,
that, amidst all my hypocrisies, spoke out with terrible frankness, deep
in this receptacle, and having hid away the pen and ink, my accomplices, I
opened the door, and resumed my careless looks, awaiting Madame's return.

'I was to demand to Mr. Ruthyn the permission to go to Feltram, and I think
he will allow. He want to speak to you.'

With Madame I entered my uncle's room. He was reclining on a sofa, his back
towards us, and his long white hair, as fine as spun glass, hung over the
back of the couch.

'I was going to ask you, dear Maud, to execute two or three little
commissions for me in Feltram.'

My dreadful letter felt lighter in my pocket, and my heart beat violently.

'But I have just recollected that this is a market-day, and Feltram will
be full of doubtful characters and tipsy persons, so we must wait till
to-morrow; and Madame says, very kindly, that she will, as she does not
so much mind, make any little purchases to-day which cannot conveniently
wait.'

Madame assented with a courtesy to Uncle Silas, and a great hollow smile to
me.

By this time Uncle Silas had raised himself from his reclining posture, and
was sitting, gaunt and white, upon the sofa.

'News of my prodigal to-day,' he said, with a peevish smile, drawing the
newspaper towards him. 'The vessel has been spoken again. How many miles
away, do you suppose?'

He spoke in a plaintive key, looking at me, with hungry eyes, and a
horribly smiling countenance.

'How far do you suppose Dudley is to-day?' and he laid the palm of his hand
on the paragraph as he spoke. _Guess_!'

For a moment I fancied this was a theatric preparation to give point to the
disclosure of Dudley's real whereabouts.

'It was a very long way. Guess!' he repeated.

So, stammering a little and pale, I performed the required hypocrisy, after
which my uncle read aloud for my benefit the line or two in which were
recorded the event, and the latitude and longitude of the vessel at the
time, of which Madame made a note in her memory, for the purpose of making
her usual tracing in poor Milly's Atlas.

I cannot say how it really was, but I fancied that Uncle Silas was all
the time reading my countenance, with a grim and practised scrutiny; but
nothing came of it, and we were dismissed.

Madame loved shopping, even for its own sake, but shopping with
opportunities of peculation still more. She she had had her luncheon,
and was dressed for the excursion, she did precisely what I now most
desired--she proposed to take charge of my commissions and my money; and
thus entrusted, left me at liberty to keep tryst at the Chestnut Hollow.

So soon as I had seen Madame fairly off, I hurried Mary Quince, and got my
things on quickly. We left the house by the side entrance, which I knew my
uncle's windows did not command. Glad was I to feel a slight breeze, enough
to make the mill-sails revolve; and as we got further into the grounds,
and obtained a distant view of the picturesque old windmill, I felt
inexpressibly relieved on seeing that it was actually working.

We were now in the Chestnut Hollow, and I sent Mary Quince to her old point
of observation, which commanded a view of the path in the direction of the
Windmill Wood, with her former order to call 'I've found it,' as loudly as
she could, in case she should see anyone approaching.

I stopped at the point of our yesterday's meeting. I peered under the
branches, and my heart beat fast as I saw Meg Hawkes awaiting me.




CHAPTER LVII

_THE LETTER_


'Come away, lass,' whispered Beauty, very pale; 'he's here--Tom Brice.'

And she led the way, shoving aside the leafless underwood, and we reached
Tom. The slender youth, groom or poacher--he might answer for either--with
his short coat and gaitered legs, was sitting on a low horizontal bough,
with his shoulder against the trunk.

'_Don't_ ye mind; sit ye still, lad,' said Meg, observing that he was
preparing to rise, and had entangled his hat in the boughs. 'Sit ye still,
and hark to the lady. He'll take it, Miss Maud, if he can; wi' na ye, lad?'

'E'es, I'll take it,' he replied, holding out his hand.

'Tom Brice, you won't deceive me?'

'Noa, sure,' said Tom and Meg nearly in the same breath.

'You are an honest English lad, Tom--you would not betray me?' I was
speaking imploringly.

'Noa, sure,' repeated Tom.

There was something a little unsatisfactory in the countenance of this
light-haired youth, with the sharpish up-turned nose. Throughout our
interview he said next to nothing, and smiled lazily to himself, like a man
listening to a child's solemn nonsense, and leading it on, with an amused
irony, from one wise sally to another.

Thus it seemed to me that this young clown, without in the least intending
to be offensive, was listening to me with a profound and lazy mockery.

I could not choose, however; and, such as he was, I must employ him or
none.

'Now, Tom Brice, a great deal depends on this.'

'That's true for her, Tom Brice,' said Meg, who now and then confirmed my
asseverations.

'I'll give you a pound _now_, Tom,' and I placed the coin and the letter
together in his hand. 'And you are to give this letter to Lady Knollys, at
Elverston; you know Elverston, don't you?'

'He does, Miss. Don't ye, lad?'

'E'es.'

'Well, do so, Tom, and I'll be good to you so long as I live.'

'D'ye hear, lad?'

'E'es,' said Tom; 'it's very good.'

'You'll take the letter, Tom? 'I said, in much greater trepidation as to
his answer than I showed.

'E'es, I'll take the letter,' said he, rising, and turning it about in his
fingers under his eye, like a curiosity.

'Tom Brice,' I said, 'If you can't be true to me, say so; but don't take
the letter except to give it to Lady Knollys, at Elverston. If you won't
promise that, let me have the note back. Keep the pound; but tell me that
you won't mention my having asked you to carry a letter to Elverston to
anyone.'

For the first time Tom looked perfectly serious. He twiddled the corner of
my letter between his finger and thumb, and wore very much the countenance
of a poacher about to be committed.

'I don't want to chouce ye, Miss; but I must take care o' myself, ye see.
The letters goes all through Silas's fingers to the post, and he'd know
damn well this worn't among 'em. They do say he opens 'em, and reads 'em
before they go; an' that's his diversion. I don't know; but I do believe
that's how it be; an' if this one turned up, they'd all know it went be
hand, and I'd be spotted for't.'

'But you know who I am, Tom, and I'd save you,' said I, eagerly.

'Ye'd want savin' yerself, I'm thinkin', if that feel oot,' said Tom,
cynically. 'I don't say, though, I'll not take it--only this--I won't run
my head again a wall for no one.'

'Tom,' I said, with a sudden inspiration, 'give me back the letter,
and take me out of Bartram; take me to Elverston; it will be the best
thing--for _you_, Tom, I mean--it will indeed--that ever befell you.'

With this clown I was pleading, as for my life; my hand was on his sleeve.
I was gazing imploringly in his face.

But it would not do; Tom Brice looked amused again, swung his head a little
on one side, grinning sheepishly over his shoulder on the roots of the
trees beside him, as if he were striving to keep himself from an uncivil
fit of laughter.

'I'll do what a wise lad may, Miss; but ye don't know they lads; they
bain't that easy come over; and I won't get knocked on the head, nor sent
to gaol 'appen, for no good to thee nor me. There's Meg there, she knows
well enough I could na' manage that; so I won't try it, Miss, by no chance;
no offence, Miss; but I'd rayther not, an' I'll just try what I can make
o'this; that's all I can do for ye.'

Tom Brice, with these words, stood up, and looked uneasily in the direction
of the Windmill Wood.

'Mind ye, Miss, coom what will, ye'll not tell o' me?'

'Whar 'ill ye go now, Tom?' inquired Meg, uneasily.

'Never ye mind, lass,' answered he, breaking his way through the thicket,
and soon disappearing.

'E'es that 'ill be it--he'll git into the sheepwalk behind the mound.
They're all down yonder; git ye back, Miss, to the hoose--be the side-door;
mind ye, don't go round the corner; and I'll jest sit awhile among the
bushes, and wait a good time for a start. And good-bye, Miss; and don't ye
show like as if there was aught out o' common on your mind. Hish!'

There was a distant hallooing.

'That be fayther!' she whispered, with a very blank countenance, and
listened with her sunburnt hand to her ear.

'Tisn't me, only Davy he'll be callin',' she said, with a great sigh, and a
joyless smile. 'Now git ye away i' God's name.'

So running lightly along the path, under cover of this thick wood, I
recalled Mary Quince, and together we hastened back again to the house, and
entered, as directed, by the side-door, which did not expose us to be
seen from the Windmill Wood, and, like two criminals, we stole up by the
backstairs, and so through the side-gallery to my room; and there sat down
to collect my wits, and try to estimate the exact effect of what had just
occurred.

Madame had not returned. That was well; she always visited my room first,
and everything was precisely as I had left it--a certain sign that her
prying eyes and busy fingers had not been at work during my absence.

When she did appear, strange to say, it was to bring me unexpected comfort.
She had in her hand a letter from my dear Lady Knollys--a gleam of sunlight
from the free and happy outer world entered with it. The moment Madame left
me to myself, I opened it and read as follows:--

'I am so happy, my dearest Maud, in the immediate prospect of seeing you. I
have had a really kind letter from poor Silas--_poor_ I say, for I really
compassionate his situation, about which he has been, I do believe, quite
frank--at least Ilbury says so, and somehow he happens to know. I have had
quite an affecting, changed letter. I will tell you all when I see you.
He wants me ultimately to undertake that which would afford me the most
unmixed happiness--I mean the care of you, my dear girl. I only fear lest
my too eager acceptance of the trust should excite that vein of opposition
which is in most human beings, and induce him to think over his offer less
favourably again. He says I must come to Bartram, and stay a night, and
promises to lodge me comfortably; about which last I honestly do not care a
pin, when the chance of a comfortable evening's gossip with you is in view.
Silas explains his sad situation, and must hold himself in readiness for
early flight, if he would avoid the risk of losing his personal liberty. It
is a sad thing that he should have so irretrievably ruined himself,
that poor Austin's liberality seems to have positively precipitated his
extremity. His great anxiety is that I should see you before you leave for
your short stay in France. He thinks you must leave before a fortnight. I
am thinking of asking you to come over here; I know you would be just as
well at Elverston as in France; but perhaps, as he seems disposed to do
what we all wish, it may be safer to let him set about it in his own way.
The truth is, I have so set my heart upon it that I fear to risk it by
crossing him even in a trifle. He says I must fix an early day next week,
and talks as if he meant to urge me to make a longer visit than he defined.
I shall be only too happy. I begin, my dear Maud, to think that there is no
use in trying to control events, and that things often turn out best, and
most exactly to our wishes, by being left quite to themselves. I think
it was Talleyrand who praised the talent of _waiting_ so much. In high
spirits, and with my head brimful of plans, I remain, dearest Maud, ever
your affectionate cousin,

MONICA.'

Here was an inexplicable puzzle! A faint radiance of hope, however, began
to overspread a landscape only a few minutes before darkened by total
eclipse; but construct what theory I might, all were inconsistent with many
well-established and awful incongruities, and their wrecks lay strown over
the troubled waters of the gulf into which I gazed.

Why was Madame here? Why was Dudley concealed about the place? Why was I a
prisoner within the walls? What were those dangers which Meg Hawkes seemed
to think so great and so imminent as to induce her to risk her lover's
safety for my deliverance? All these menacing facts stood grouped together
against the dark certainty that never were men more deeply interested in
making away with one human being, than were Uncle Silas and Dudley in
removing me.

Sometimes to these dreadful evidences I abandoned my soul. Sometimes,
reading Cousin Monica's sunny letter, the sky would clear, and my terrors
melt away like nightmares in the morning. I never repented, however, that
I had sent my letter by Tom Brice. Escape from Bartram-Haugh was my hourly
longing.

That evening Madame invited herself to tea with me. I did not object.
It was better just then to be on friendly relations with everybody, if
possible, even on their own terms. She was in one of her boisterous and
hilarious moods, and there was a perfume of brandy.

She narrated some compliments paid her that morning in Feltram by that
'good crayature' Mrs. Litheways, the silk-mercer, and what ''ansom faylow'
was her new foreman--(she intended plainly that I should 'queez' her)--and
how 'he follow' her with his eyes wherever she went. I thought, perhaps, he
fancied she might pocket some of his lace or gloves. And all the time her
great wicked eyes were rolling and glancing according to her ideas of
fascination, and her bony face grinning and flaming with the 'strong drink'
in which she delighted. She sang twaddling chansons, and being, as was her
wont under such exhilarating influences, in a vapouring mood, she vowed
that I should have my carriage and horses immediately.

'I weel try what I can do weeth your Uncle Silas. We are very good
old friends, Mr. Ruthyn and I,' she said with a leer which I did not
understand, and which yet frightened me.

I never could quite understand why these Jezebels like to insinuate the
dreadful truth against themselves; but they do. Is it the spirit of
feminine triumph overcoming feminine shame, and making them vaunt their
fall as an evidence of bygone fascination and existing power? Need we
wonder? Have not women preferred hatred to indifference, and the reputation
of witchcraft, with all its penalties, to absolute insignificance? Thus, as
they enjoyed the fear inspired among simple neighbours by their imagined
traffic with the father of ill, did Madame, I think, relish with a cynical
vainglory the suspicion of her satanic superiority.

Next morning Uncle Silas sent for me. He was seated at his table, and spoke
his little French greeting, smiling as usual, pointing to a chair opposite.

'How far, I forget,' he said, carelessly laying his newspaper on the table,
'did you yesterday guess Dudley to be?'

'Eleven hundred miles I thought it was.'

'Oh yes, so it was;' and then there was an abstracted pause. 'I have been
writing to Lord Ilbury, your trustee,' he resumed. I ventured to say, my
dear Maud--(for having thoughts of a different arrangement for you, more
suitable under my distressing circumstances, I do not wish to vacate
without some expression of your estimate of my treatment of you while
under my roof)--I ventured to say that you thought me kind, considerate,
indulgent,--may I say so?'

I assented. What could I say?

'I said you had enjoyed our poor way of living here--our rough ways and
liberty. Was I right?'

Again I assented.

'And, in fact, that you had nothing to object against your poor old uncle,
except indeed his poverty, which you forgave. I think I said truth. Did I,
dear Maud?'

Again I acquiesced.

All this time he was fumbling among the papers in his coatpocket.

'That is satisfactory. So I expected you to say,' he murmured. 'I expected
no less.'

On a sudden a frightful change spread across his face. He rose like a
spectre with a white scowl.

'Then how do you account for that?' he shrieked in a voice of thunder, and
smiting my open letter to Lady Knollys, face upward, upon the table.

I stared at my uncle, unable to speak, until I seemed to lose sight of him;
but his voice, like a bell, still yelled in my ears.

'There! young hypocrite and liar! explain that farrago of slander which you
bribed my servant to place in the hands of my kinswoman, Lady Knollys.'

And so on and on it went, I gazing into darkness, until the voice itself
became indistinct, grew into a buzz, and hummed away into silence.

I think I must have had a fit.

When I came to myself I was drenched with water, my hair, face, neck, and
dress. I did not in the least know where I was. I thought my father was
ill, and spoke to him. Uncle Silas was standing near the window, looking
unspeakably grim. Madame was seated beside me, and an open bottle of ether,
one of Uncle Silas's restoratives, on the table before me.

'Who's that--who's ill--is anyone dead?' I cried.

At last I was relieved by long paroxysms of weeping. When I was
sufficiently recovered, I was conveyed into my own room.




CHAPTER LVIII

_LADY KNOLLYS' CARRIAGE_


Next morning--it was Sunday--I lay on my bed in my dressing-gown, dull,
apathetic, with all my limbs sore, and, as I thought, rheumatic,
and feeling so ill that I did not care to speak or lift my head. My
recollection of what had passed in Uncle Silas's room was utterly confused,
and it seemed to me as if my poor father had been there and taken a
share--I could not remember how--in the conference.

I was too exhausted and stupid to clear up this horrible muddle, and merely
lay with my face toward the wall, motionless and silent, except for a great
sigh every now and then.

Good Mary Quince was in the room--there was some comfort in that; but I
felt quite worn out, and had rather she did not speak to me; and indeed for
the time I felt absolutely indifferent as to whether I lived or died.

Cousin Monica this morning, at pleasant Elverston, all-unconscious of my
sad plight, proposed to Lady Mary Carysbroke and Lord Ilbury, her
guests, to drive over to church at Feltram, and then pay us a visit at
Bartram-Haugh, to which they readily agreed.

Accordingly, at about two o'clock, this pleasant party of three arrived at
Bartram. They walked, having left the carriage to follow when the horses
were fed; and Madame de la Rougierre, who was in my uncle's room when
little Giblets arrived to say that the party were in the parlour, whispered
for a little with my uncle, who then said--

'Miss Maud Ruthyn has gone out to drive, but I shall be happy to see Lady
Knollys here, if she will do me the favour to come upstairs and see me for
a few moments; and you can mention that I am very far from well.'

Madame followed him out upon the lobby, and added, holding him by the
collar, and whispering earnestly in his ear--

'Bring hair ladysheep up by the backstairs--mind, the _back_stairs.'

And the next moment Madame entered my room, with long tiptoe steps, and
looking, Mary Quince said, as if she were going to be hanged.

On entering she looked sharply round, and being satisfied of Mary Quince's
presence, she turned the key in the door, and made some affectionate
enquiries about me in a whisper; and then she stole to the window and
peeped out, standing back some way; after which she came to my bedside,
murmured some tender sentences, drew the curtain a little, and making some
little fidgety adjustments about the room; among the rest she took the key
from the lock, quietly, and put it into her pocket.

This was so odd a procedure that honest Mary Quince rose stoutly from her
chair, pointing to the lock, with her frank little blue eyes fixed on
Madame, and she whispered--'Won't you put the key in the lock, please?'

'Oh, certainly, Mary Queence; but it is better it shall be locked, for I
think her uncle he is coming to see her, and I am sure she would be very
much frightened, for he is very much displease, don't you see? and we can
tell him she is not well enough, or asleep, and so he weel go away again,
without any trouble.'

I heard nothing of this, which was conducted in close whispers; and Mary,
although she did not give Madame credit for caring whether I was frightened
or not, and suspected her motives in everything, acquiesced grudgingly,
fearing lest her alleged reason might possibly be the true one.

So Madame hovered about the door, uneasily; and of what went on elsewhere
during that period Lady Knollys afterwards gave me the following account:--

'We were very much disappointed; but of course I was glad to see Silas, and
your little hobgoblin butler led me upstairs to his room a different way, I
think, from that I came before; but I don't know the house of Bartram well
enough to speak positively. I only know that I was conducted quite across
his bedroom, which I had not seen on my former visit, and so into his
sitting-room, where I found him.

'He seemed very glad to see me, came forward smiling--I disliked his smile
always--with both hands out, and shook mine with more warmth than I ever
remembered in his greeting before, and said--

'"My dear, _dear_ Monica, how _very_ good of you--the very person I longed
to see! I have been miserably ill, the sad consequence of still more
miserable anxiety. Sit down, pray, for a moment."

'And he paid me some nice little French compliment in verse.

'"And where is Maud?" said I.

'"I think Maud is by this time about halfway to Elverston," said the old
gentleman. "I persuaded her to take a drive, and advised a call there,
which seemed to please her, so I conjecture she obeyed."

'"How _very_ provoking!" cried I.

'"My poor Maud will be sadly disappointed, but you will console her by a
visit--you have promised to come, and I shall try to make you comfortable.
I shall be happier, Monica, with this proof of our perfect reconciliation.
You won't deny me?"

'"Certainly not. I am only too glad to come," said I; "and I want to thank
you, Silas."

'"For what?" said he.

'"For wishing to place Maud in my care. I am very much obliged to you."

'"I did not suggest it, I must say, Monica, with the least intention of
obliging _you_," said Silas.

'I thought he was going to break into one of his ungracious moods.

'"But I _am_ obliged to you--very much obliged to you, Silas; and you
sha'n't refuse my thanks."

'"I am happy, at all events, Monica, in having won your good-will; we learn
at last that in the affections only are our capacities for happiness; and
how true is St. Paul's preference of love--the principle that abideth! The
affections, dear Monica, are eternal; and being so, celestial, divine, and
consequently happy, deriving happiness, and bestowing it."

'I was always impatient of his or anybody else's metaphysics; but I
controlled myself, and only said, with my customary impudence--

'"Well, dear Silas, and when do you wish me to come?"

'"The earlier the better," said he.

'"Lady Mary and Ilbury will be leaving me on Tuesday morning. I can come to
you in the afternoon, if you think Tuesday a good day."

'"Thank you, dear Monica. I shall be, I trust, enlightened by that day as
to my enemies' plans. It is a humiliating confession, Monica, but I am past
feeling that. It is quite possible that an execution may be sent into
this house to-morrow, and an end of all my schemes. It is not likely,
however--hardly possible--before three weeks, my attorney tells me. I shall
hear from him to-morrow morning, and then I shall ask you to name a very
early day. If we are to have an unmolested fortnight certain, you shall
hear, and name your own day."

'Then he asked me who had accompanied me, and lamented ever so much his not
being able to go down to receive them; and he offered luncheon, with a sort
of Ravenswood smile, and a shrug, and I declined, telling him that we had
but a few minutes, and that my companions were walking in the grounds near
the house.

'I asked whether Maud was likely to return soon?

'"Certainly not before five o'clock." He thought we should probably meet
her on our way back to Elverston; but could not be certain, as she might
have changed her plans.

'So then came--no more remaining to be said--a very affectionate parting. I
believe all about his legal dangers was strictly true. How he could, unless
that horrid woman had deceived him, with so serene a countenance tell me
all those gross untruths about Maud, I can only admire.'

In the meantime, as I lay in my bed, Madame, gliding hither and thither,
whispering sometimes, listening at others, I suddenly startled them both by
saying--

'Whose carriage?'

'What carriage, dear?' inquired Quince, whose ears were not so sharp as
mine.

Madame peeped from the window.

''Tis the physician, Doctor Jolks. He is come to see your uncle, my dear,'
said Madame.

'But I hear a female voice,' I said, sitting up.

'No, my dear; there is only the doctor,' said Madame. 'He is come to your
uncle. I tell you he is getting out of his carriage,' and she affected to
watch the doctor's descent.

'The carriage is driving away!' I cried.

'Yes, it is draiving away,' she echoed.

But I had sprung from my bed, and was looking over her shoulder, before she
perceived me.

'It is Lady Knollys!' I screamed, seizing the window-frame to force it up,
and, vainly struggling to open it, I cried--

'I'm here, Cousin Monica. For God's sake, Cousin Monica--Cousin Monica!'

'You are mad, Meess--go back,' screamed Madame, exerting her superior
strength to force me back.

But I saw deliverance and escape gliding away from my reach, and, strung
to unnatural force by desperation, I pushed past her, and beat the window
wildly with my hands, screaming--

'Save me--save me! Here, here, Monica, here! Cousin, cousin, oh! save me!'

Madame had seized my wrists, and a wild struggle was going on. A
window-pane was broken, and I was shrieking to stop the carriage. The
Frenchwoman looked black and haggard as a fury, as if she could have
murdered me.

Nothing daunted--frantic--I screamed in my despair, seeing the carriage
drive swiftly away--seeing Cousin Monica's bonnet, as she sat chatting with
her _vis-à-vis_.

'Oh, oh, oh!' I shrieked, in vain and prolonged agony, as Madame, exerting
her strength and matching her fury against my despair, forced me back in
spite of my wild struggles, and pushed me sitting on the bed, where she
held me fast, glaring in my face, and chuckling and panting over me.

I think I felt something of the despair of a lost spirit.

I remember the face of poor Mary Quince--its horror, its wonder--as she
stood gaping into my face, over Madame's shoulder, and crying--

'What is it, Miss Maud? What is it, dear?' And turning fiercely on Madame,
and striving to force her grasp from my wrists, 'Are you hurting the child?
Let her go--let her go.'

'I _weel_ let her go. Wat old fool are you, Mary Queence! She is mad, I
think. She 'as lost hair head.'

'Oh, Mary, cry from the window. Stop the carriage!' I cried.

Mary looked out, but there was by this time, of course, nothing in sight.

'Why don't a you stop the carriage?' sneered Madame. 'Call a the coachman
and the postilion. W'ere is the footman? Bah! _elle a le cerveau mal
timbré_.'

'Oh, Mary, Mary, is it gone--is it gone? Is there nothing there?' cried I,
rushing to the window; and turning to Madame, after a vain straining of my
eyes, my face against the glass--

'Oh, cruel, cruel, wicked woman! why have you done this? What was it to
you? Why do you persecute me? What good _can_ you gain by my ruin?'

'Rueen! Par bleu! ma chère, you talk too fast. Did not a you see it, Mary
Queence? It was the doctor's carriage, and Mrs. Jolks, and that eempudent
faylow, young Jolks, staring up to the window, and Mademoiselle she come in
soche shocking déshabille to show herself knocking at the window. 'Twould
be very nice thing, Mary Queence, don't you think?'

I was sitting now on the bedside, crying in mere despair. I did not care to
dispute or to resist. Oh! why had rescue come so near, only to prove that
it could not reach me? So I went on crying, with a clasping of my hands and
turning up of my eyes, in incoherent prayer. I was not thinking of Madame,
or of Mary Quince, or any other person, only babbling my anguish and
despair helplessly in the ear of heaven.

'I did not think there was soche fool. Wat _enfant gaté_! My dear cheaile,
wat a can you _mean_ by soche strange language and conduct? Wat for should
a you weesh to display yourself in the window in soche 'orrible déshabille
to the people in the doctor's coach?'

'It was _Cousin Knollys_--Cousin Knollys. Oh, Cousin Knollys! You're
gone--you're gone--you're _gone_!'

'And if it was Lady Knollys' coach, there was certainly a coachman and a
footman; and whoever has the coach there was young gentlemen in it. If it
was Lady Knollys' carriage it would 'av been _worse_ than the doctor.'

'It is no matter--it is all over. Oh, Cousin Monica, your poor Maud--where
is she to turn? Is there no help?'

That evening Madame visited me again, in one of her sedate and moral moods.
She found me dejected and passive, as she had left me.

'I think, Maud, there is news; but I am not certain.'

I raised my head and looked at her wistfully.

'I think there is letter of _bad_ news from the attorney in London.'

'Oh!' I said, in a tone which I am sure implied the absolute indifference
of dejection.

'But, my dear Maud, if't be so, we shall go at once, you and me, to join
Meess Millicent in France. La belle France! You weel like so moche! We
shall be so gay. You cannot imagine there are such naice girl there. They
all love a me so moche, you will be delight.'

'How soon do we go?' I asked.

'I do not know. Bote I was to bring in a case of eau de cologne that came
this evening, and he laid down a letter and say:--"The blow has descended,
Madame! My niece must hold herself in readiness." I said, "For what,
Monsieur?" _twice_; bote he did not answer. I am sure it is _un procès_.
They 'av ruin him. Eh bien, my dear. I suppose we shall leave this triste
place immediately. I am so rejoice. It appears to me _un cimetière_!'

'Yes, I should like to leave it,' I said, sitting up, with a great sigh and
sunken eyes. It seemed to me that I had quite lost all sense of resentment
towards Madame. A debility of feeling had supervened--the fatigue, I
suppose, and prostration of the passions.

'I weel make excuse to go into his room again,' said Madame; 'and I weel
endeavor to learn something more from him, and I weel come back again to
you in half an hour.'

She departed. But in half an hour did not return. I had a dull longing to
leave Bartram-Haugh. For me, since the departure of poor Milly, it had
grown like the haunt of evil spirits, and to escape on any terms from it
was a blessing unspeakable.

Another half-hour passed, and another, and I grew insufferably feverish.
I sent Mary Quince to the lobby to try and see Madame, who, I feared, was
probably to-ing and fro-ing in and out of Uncle Silas's room.

Mary returned to tell me that she had seen old Wyat, who told her that she
thought Madame had gone to her bed half an hour before.




CHAPTER LIX

_A SUDDEN DEPARTURE_


'Mary,' said I, 'I am miserably anxious to hear what Madame may have to
tell; she knows the state I am in, and she would not like so much trouble
as to look in at my door to say a word. Did you hear what she told me?'

'No, Miss Maud,' she answered, rising and drawing near.

'She thinks we are going to France immediately, and to leave this place
perhaps for ever.'

'Heaven be praised for that, if it be so, Miss!' said Mary, with more
energy than was common with her, 'for there is no luck about it, and I
don't expect to see you ever well or happy in it.'

'You must take your candle, Mary, and make out her room, upstairs; I found
it accidentally myself one evening.'

'But Wyat won't let us upstairs.'

'Don't mind her, Mary; I tell you to go. You must try. I can't sleep till
we hear.'

'What direction is her room in, Miss?' asked Mary.

'Somewhere in _that_ direction, Mary,' I answered, pointing. 'I cannot
describe the turns; but I think you will find it if you go along the great
passage to your left, on getting to the top of the stairs, till you come to
the cross-galleries, and then turn to your left; and when you have passed
four or perhaps five doors, you must be very near it, and I am sure she
will hear if you call.'

'But will she tell me--she _is_ such a rum un, Miss?' suggested Mary.

'Tell her exactly what I have said to you, and when she learns that you
already know as much as I do, she may--unless, indeed, she wishes to
torture me. If she won't, perhaps at least you can persuade her to come to
me for a moment. Try, dear Mary; we can but fail.'

'Will you be very lonely, Miss, while I am away?' asked Mary, uneasily, as
she lighted her candle.

'I can't help it, Mary. Go. I think if I heard we were going, I could
almost get up and dance and sing. I can't bear this dreadful uncertainty
any longer.'

'If old Wyat is outside, I'll come back and wait here a bit, till she's out
o' the way,' said Mary; 'and, anyhow, I'll make all the haste I can. The
drops and the sal-volatile is here, Miss, by your hand.'

And with an anxious look at me, she made her exit, softly, and did not
immediately return, by which I concluded that she had found the way clear,
and had gained the upper story without interruption.

This little anxiety ended, its subsidence was followed by a sense of
loneliness, and with it, of vague insecurity, which increased at last to
such a pitch, that I wondered at my own madness in sending my companion
away; and at last my terrors so grew, that I drew back into the farthest
corner of the bed, with my shoulders to the wall, and my bed-clothes
huddled about me, with only a point open to peep at.

At last the door opened gently.

'Who's there?' I cried, in extremity of horror, expecting I knew not whom.

'Me, Miss,' whispered Mary Quince, to my unutterable relief; and with her
candle flared, and a wild and pallid face, Mary Quince glided into the
room, locking the door as she entered.

I do not know how it was, but I found myself holding Mary fast with both my
hands as we stood side by side on the floor.

'Mary, you are terrified; for God's sake, what is the matter?' I cried.

'No, Miss,' said Mary, faintly, 'not much.'

'I see it in your face. What is it?'

'Let me sit down, Miss. I'll tell you what I saw; only I'm just a bit
queerish.'

Mary sat down by my bed.

'Get in, Miss; you'll take cold. Get into bed, and I'll tell you. It is not
much.'

I did get into bed, and gazing on Mary's frightened face, I felt a
corresponding horror.

'For mercy's sake, Mary, say what it is?'

So again assuring me 'it was not much,' she gave me in a somewhat diffuse
and tangled narrative the following facts:--

On closing my door, she raised her candle above her head and surveyed the
lobby, and seeing no one there she ascended the stairs swiftly. She passed
along the great gallery to the left, and paused a moment at the cross
gallery, and then recollected my directions clearly, and followed the
passage to the right.

There are doors at each side, and she had forgotten to ask me at which
Madame's was. She opened several. In one room she was frightened by a bat,
which had very nearly put her candle out. She went on a little, paused, and
began to lose heart in the dismal solitude, when on a sudden, a few doors
farther on, she thought she heard Madame's voice.

She said that she knocked at the door, but receiving no answer, and hearing
Madame still talking within, she opened it.

There was a candle on the chimneypiece, and another in a stable lantern
near the window. Madame was conversing volubly on the hearth, with her face
toward the window, the entire frame of which had been taken from its place:
Dickon Hawkes, the Zamiel of the wooden leg, was supporting it with one
hand, as it leaned imperfectly against the angle of the recess. There was
a third figure standing, buttoned up in a surtout, with a bundle of tools
under his arm, like a glazier, and, with a silent thrill of fear, she
distinctly recognised the features as those of Dudley Ruthyn.

''Twas him, Miss, so sure as I sit here! Well, like that, they were as mute
as mice; three pairs of eyes were on me. I don't know what made me so study
like, but som'at told me I should not make as though I knew any but Madame;
and so I made a courtesy, as well as I could, and I said, "Might I speak a
word wi' ye, please, on the lobby?"

'Mr. Dudley was making belief be this time to look out at window, wi' his
back to me, and I kept looking straight on Madame, and she said, "They're
mendin' my broken glass, Mary," walking between them and me, and coming
close up to me very quick; and so she marched me backward out o' the door,
prating all the time.

'When we were on the lobby, she took my candle from my hand, shutting the
door behind her, and she held the light a bit behind her ear; so'twas full
on my face, as she looked sharp into it; and, after a bit, she said again,
in her queer lingo--there was two panes broke in her room, and men sent for
to mend it.

'I was awful frightened when I saw Mr. Dudley, for I could not believe any
such thing before, and I don't know how I could look her in the face as I
did and not show it. I was as smooth and cool as yonder chimneypiece, and
she has an awful evil eye to stan' against; but I never flinched, and I
think she's puzzled, for as cunning as she is, whether I believe all she
said, or knowed 'twas a pack o' stories. So I told her your message, and
she said she had not heard another word since; but she did believe we had
not many more days here, and would tell you if she heard to-night, when she
brought his soup to your uncle, in half an hour's time.'

I asked her, as soon as I could speak, whether she was perfectly certain as
to the fact that the man in the surtout was Dudley, and she made answer--

'I'd swear to him on that Bible, Miss.'

So far from any longer wishing Madame's return that night, I trembled at
the idea of it. Who could tell who might enter the room with her when the
door opened to admit her?

Dudley, so soon as he recovered the surprise, had turned about, evidently
anxious to prevent recognition; Dickon Hawkes stood glowering at her. Both
might have hope of escaping recognition in the imperfect light, for the
candle on the chimneypiece was flaring in the air, and the light from the
lantern fell in spots, and was confusing.

What could that ruffian, Hawkes, be doing in the house? Why was Dudley
there? Could a more ominous combination be imagined? I puzzled my
distracted head over all Mary Quince's details, but could make nothing of
their occupation. I know of nothing so terrifying as this kind of perpetual
puzzling over ominous problems.

You may imagine how the long hours of that night passed, and how my heart
beat at every fancied sound outside my door.

But morning came, and with its light some reassurance. Early, Madame de la
Rougierre made her appearance; she searched my eyes darkly and shrewdly,
but made no allusion to Mary Quince's visit. Perhaps she expected some
question from me, and, hearing none, thought it as well to leave the
subject at rest.

She had merely come in to say that she had heard nothing since, but was now
going to make my uncle's chocolate; and that so soon as her interview was
ended she would see me again, and let me hear anything she should have
gleaned.

In a little while a knock came to my door, and Mary Quince was ordered by
old Wyat into my uncle's room. She returned flushed, in a huge fuss, to say
that I was to be up and dressed for a journey in half an hour, and to go
straight, when dressed, to my uncle's room.

It was good news; at the same time it was a shock. I was glad. I was
stunned. I jumped out of bed, and set about my toilet with an energy quite
new to me. Good Mary Quince was busily packing my boxes, and consulting as
to what I should take with me, and what not.

Was Mary Quince to accompany me? He had not said a word on that point; and
I feared from his silence she was to remain. There was comfort, however, in
this--that the separation would not be for long; I felt confident of that;
and I was about to join Milly, whom I loved better than I could have
believed before our separation; but whatsoever the conditions might be,
it was an indescribable relief to have done with Bartram-Haugh, and leave
behind me its sinister lines of circumvallation, its haunted recesses, and
the awful spectres that had lately appeared within its walls.

I stood too much in awe of my uncle to fail in presenting myself punctually
at the close of the half-hour. I entered his sitting-room under the shadow
of sour old Wyat's high-cauled cap; she closed the door behind me, and the
conference commenced.

Madame de la Rougierre sat there, dressed and draped for a journey, and
with a thick black lace veil on. My uncle rose, gaunt and venerable, and
with a harsh and severe countenance. He did not offer his hand; he made me
a kind of bow, more of repulsion than of respect. He remained in a standing
position, supporting his crooked frame by his hand, which he leaned on a
despatch-box; he glared on me steadily with his wild phosphoric eyes, from
under the dark brows I have described to you, now corrugated in lines
indescribably stern.

'You shall join my daughter at the Pension, in France; Madame de la
Rougierre shall accompany you,' said my uncle, delivering his directions
with the stern monotony and the measured pauses of a person dictating an
important despatch to a secretary.' Old Mrs. Quince shall follow with me,
or, if alone, in a week. You shall pass to-night in London; to-morrow night
you proceed thence to Dover, and cross by the mail-packet. You shall now
sit down and write a letter to your cousin Monica Knollys, which I will
first read and then despatch. Tomorrow you shall write a note to Lady
Knollys, from _London_, telling her how you have got over so much of your
journey, and that you cannot write from Dover, as you must instantly start
by the packet on reaching it; and that until my affairs are a little
settled, you cannot write to her from France, as it is of high importance
to my safety that no clue should exist as to our address. Intelligence,
however, shall reach her through my attorneys, Archer and Sleigh, and I
trust we shall soon return. You will, please, submit that latter note to
Madame de la Rougierre, who has my directions to see that it contains no
_libels_ upon my character. Now, sit down.'

So, with those unpleasant words tingling in my ears, I obeyed.

'_Write_,' said he, when I was duly placed. 'You shall convey the substance
of what I say in your own language. The immiment danger this morning
announced of an execution--rememher the word,' and he spelled it for
me--'being put into this house either this afternoon or to-morrow, compels
me to anticipate my plans, and despatch you for France this day. That you
are starting with an attendant.' Here an uneasy movement from Madame,
whose dignity was perhaps excited. 'An _attendant_,' he repeated, with a
discordant emphasis; 'and you can, if you please--but I don't _solicit_
that justice--say that you have been as kindly treated here as my
unfortunate circumstances would permit. That is all. You have just fifteen
minutes to write. Begin.'

I wrote accordingly. My hysterical state had made me far less combative
than I might have proved some months since, for there was much that was
insulting as well as formidable in his manner. I completed my letter,
however, to his satisfaction in the prescribed time; and he said, as he
laid it and its envelope on the table--

'Please to remember that this lady is not your attendant only, but that she
has authority to direct every detail respecting your journey, and will make
all the necessary payments on the way. You will please, then, implicitly to
comply with her directions. The carriage awaits you at the hall-door.'

Having thus spoken, with another grim bow, and 'I wish you a safe and
pleasant journey,' he receded a step or two, and I, with an undefinable
kind of melancholy, though also with a sense of relief, withdrew.

My letter, I afterwards found, reached Lady Knollys, accompanied by one
from Uncle Silas, who said--'Dear Maud apprises me that she has written
to tell you something of our movements. A sudden crisis in my miserable
affairs compels a break-up as sudden here. Maud joins my daughter at the
Pension, in France. I purposely omit the address, because I mean to
reside in its vicinity until this storm shall have blown over; and as the
consequences of some of my unhappy entanglements might pursue me even
there, I must only for the present spare you the pain and trouble of
keeping a secret. I am sure that for some little time you will excuse
the girl's silence; in the meantime you shall hear of them, and perhaps
circuitously, from me. Our dear Maud started this morning _en route_ for
her destination, very sorry, as am I, that she could not enjoy first a
flying visit to Elverston, but in high spirits, notwithstanding, at the new
life and sights before her.'

At the door my beloved old friend, Mary Quince, awaited me.

'Am I going with you, Miss Maud?'

I burst into tears and clasped her in my arms.

'I'm not,' said Mary, very sorrowfully; 'and I never was from you yet,
Miss, since you wasn't the length of my arm.'

And kind old Mary began to cry with me.

'Bote you are coming in a few days, Mary Quince,' expostulated Madame. 'I
wonder you are soche fool. What is two, three days? Bah! nonsense, girl.'

Another farewell to poor Mary Quince, quite bewildered at the suddenness of
her bereavement. A serious and tremulous bow from our little old butler on
the steps. Madame bawling through the open window to the driver to make
good speed, and remember that we had but nineteen minutes to reach the
station. Away we went. Old Crowle's iron _grille_ rolled back before us.
I looked on the receding landscape, the giant trees--the palatial,
time-stained mansion. A strange conflict of feelings, sweet and bitter,
rose and mingled in the reverie. Had I been too hard and suspicious with
the inhabitants of that old house of my family? Was my uncle _justly_
indignant? Was I ever again to know such pleasant rambles as some of those
I had enjoyed with dear Millicent through the wild and beautiful woodlands
I was leaving behind me? And there, with my latest glimpse of the front
of Bartram-Haugh, I beheld dear old Mary Quince gazing after us. Again
my tears flowed. I waved my handkerchief from the window; and now the
park-wall hid all from view, and at a great pace, throught the steep wooded
glen, with the rocky and precipitous character of a ravine, we glided; and
when the road next emerged, Bartram-Haugh was a misty mass of forest and
chimneys, slope and hollow, and we within a few minutes of the station.




CHAPTER LX

_THE JOURNEY_


Waiting for the train, as we stood upon the platform, I looked back again
toward the wooded uplands of Bartram; and far behind, the fine range of
mountains, azure and soft in the distance, beyond which lay beloved old
Knowl, and my lost father and mother, and the scenes of my childhood, never
embittered except by the sibyl who sat beside me.

Under happier circumstances I should have been, at my then early age, quite
wild with pleasurable excitement on entering London for the first time.
But black Care sat by me, with her pale hand in mine: a voice of fear and
warning, whose words I could not catch, was always in my ear. We drove
through London, amid the glare of lamps, toward the West-end, and for a
little while the sense of novelty and curiosity overcame my despondency,
and I peeped eagerly from the window; while Madame, who was in high
good-humour, spite of the fatigues of our long railway flight, screeched
scraps of topographic information in my ear; for London was a picture-book
in which she was well read.

'That is Euston Square, my dear--Russell Square. Here is Oxford
Street--Haymarket. See, there is the Opera House--Hair Majesty's Theatre.
See all the carriages waiting;' and so on, till we reached at length a
little narrow street, which she told me was off Piccadilly, where we drew
up before a private house, as it seemed to me--a family hotel--and I was
glad to be at rest for the night.

Fatigued with the peculiar fatigue of railway travelling, dusty, a little
chilly, with eyes aching and wearied, I ascended the stairs silently, our
garrulous and bustling landlady leading the way, and telling her oft-told
story of the house, its noble owner in old time, and how those fine
drawing-rooms were taken every year during the Session by the Bishop of
Rochet-on-Copeley, and at last into our double-bedded room.

I would fain have been alone, but I was too tired and dejected to care very
much for anything.

At tea, Madame expanded in spirit, like a giant refreshed, and chattered
and sang; and at last, seeing that I was nodding, advised my going to bed,
while she ran across the street to see 'her dear old friend, Mademoiselle
St. Eloi, who was sure to be up, and would be offended if she failed to
make her ever so short a call.'

I cared little what she said, and was glad to be rid of her even for a
short time, and was soon fast asleep.

I saw her, I know not how much later, poking about the room, like a figure
in a dream, and taking off her things.

She had her breakfast in bed next morning, and I was, to my comfort, left
to take mine in solitary possession of our sitting-room; where I began to
wonder how little annoyance I had as yet suffered from her company, and
began to speculate upon the chances of my making the journey with tolerable
comfort.

Our hostess gave me five minutes of her valuable time. Her talk ran chiefly
upon nuns and convents, and her old acquaintance with Madame; and it seemed
to me that she had at one time driven a kind of trade, no doubt profitable
enough, in escorting young ladies to establishments on the Continent; and
although I did not then quite understand the tone in which she spoke to me,
I often thought afterwards that Madame had represented me as a young person
destined for the holy vocation of the veil.

When she was gone, I sat listlessly looking out of the window, and saw some
chance equipages drive by, and now and then a fashionable pedestrian; and
wondered if this quiet thoroughfare could really be one of the arteries so
near the heart of the tumultuous capital.

I think my nervous vitality must have burnt very low just then, for I felt
perfectly indifferent about all the novelty and world of wonders beyond,
and should have hated to leave the dull tranquillity of my window for an
excursion through the splendours of the unseen streets and palaces that
surrounded me.

It was one o'clock before Madame joined me; and finding me in this dull
mood, she did not press me to accompany her in her drive, no doubt well
pleased to be rid of me.

After tea that evening, as we sat alone in our room, she entertained me
with some very odd conversation--at the time unintelligible--but which
acquired a tolerably distinct meaning from the events that followed.

Two or three times that day Madame appeared to me on the point of saying
something of grave import, as she scanned me with her bleak wicked stare.

It was a peculiarity of hers, that whenever she was pressed upon by an
anxiety that really troubled her, her countenance did not look sad or
solicitous, as other people's would, but simply wicked. Her great gaunt
mouth was compressed and drawn down firmly at the corners, and her eyes
glared with a dismal scowl.

At last she said suddenly--

'Are you ever grateful, Maud?'

'I hope so, Madame,' I answered.

'And how do you show your gratitude? For instance, would a you do great
deal for a person who would run _risque_ for your sake?'

It struck me all at once that she was sounding me about poor Meg Hawkes,
whose fidelity, notwithstanding the treason or cowardice of her lover, Tom
Brice, I never doubted; and I grew at once wary and reserved.

'I know of no opportunity, thank Heaven, for any such service, Madame. How
can anyone serve me at present, by themselves incurring danger? What do you
mean?'

'Do you like, for example, to go to that French Pension? Would you not like
better some other arrangement?'

'Of course there are other arrangements I should like better; but I see no
use in talking of them; they are not to be,' I answered.

'What other arrangements do you mean, my dear cheaile?' enquired Madame.
'You mean, I suppose, you would like better to go to Lady Knollys?'

'My uncle does not choose it at present; and except with his consent
nothing can be done!'

'He weel never consent, dear cheaile.'

'But he _has_ consented--not immediately indeed, but in a short time, when
his affairs are settled.'

'_Lanternes_! They will never be settle,' said Madame.

'At all events, for the present I am to go to France. Milly seems very
happy, and I dare say I shall like it too. I am very glad to leave
Bartram-Haugh, at all events.'

'But your uncle weel bring you back there,' said Madame, drily.

'It is doubtful whether he will ever return to Bartram himself,' I said.

'Ah!' said Madame, with a long-drawn nasal intonation, 'you theenk I hate
you. You are quaite wrong, my dear Maud. I am, on the contrary, very much
interested for you--I am, I assure you, dear a cheaile.'

And she laid her great hand, with joints misshapen by old chilblains, upon
the back of mine. I looked up in her face. She was not smiling. On the
contrary, her wide mouth was drawn down at the corners ruefully, as before,
and she gazed on my face with a scowl from her abysmal eyes.

I used to think the flare of that irony which lighted her face so often
immeasurably worse than any other expression she could assume; but this
lack-lustre stare and dismal collapse of feature was more wicked still.

'Suppose I should bring you to Lady Knollys, and place you in her charge,
what would a you do then for poor Madame?' said this dark spectre.

I was inwardly startled at these words. I looked into her unsearchable
face, but could draw thence nothing but fear. Had she made the same
overture only two days since, I think I would have offered her half my
fortune. But circumstances were altered. I was no longer in the panic of
despair. The lesson I had received from Tom Brice was fresh in my mind, and
my profound distrust of her was uppermost. I saw before me only a tempter
and betrayer, and said--

'Do you mean to imply, Madame, that my guardian is not to be trusted, and
that I ought to make my escape from him, and that you are really willing to
aid me in doing so?'

This, you see, was turning the tables upon her. I looked her steadily in
the face as I spoke. She returned my gaze with a strange stare and a gape,
which haunted me long after; and it seemed as we sat in utter silence that
each was rather horribly fascinated by the other's gaze.

At last she shut her mouth sternly, and eyes me with a more determined and
meaning scowl, and then said in a low tone--

'I believe, Maud, that you are a cunning and wicked little thing.'

'Wisdom is not cunning, Madame; nor is it wicked to ask your meaning in
explicit language,' I replied.

'And so, you clever cheaile, we two sit here, playing at a game of chess,
over this little table, to decide which shall destroy the other--is it not
so?'

'I will not allow you to destroy me,' I retorted, with a sudden flash.

Madame stood up, and rubbed her mouth with her open hand. She looked to me
like some evil being seen in a dream. I was frightened.

'You are going to hurt me!' I ejaculated, scarce knowing what I said.

'If I were, you deserve it. You are very _malicious_, ma chère: or, it may
be, only very stupid.'

A knock came to the door.

'Come in,' I cried, with a glad sense of relief.

A maid entered.

'A letter, please, 'm,' she said, handing it to me.

'For _me_,' snarled Madame, snatching it.

I had seen my uncle's hand, and the Feltram post-mark.

Madame broke the seal, and read. It seemed but a word, for she turned it
about after the first momentary glance, and examined the interior of the
envelope, and then returned to the line she had already read.

She folded the letter again, drawing her nails in a sharp pinch along the
creases, as she stared in a blank, hesitating way at me.

'You are stupid little ingrate, I am employ by Monsieur Ruthyn, and of
course I am faithful to my employer. I do not want to talk to you. _There_,
you may read that.'

She jerked the letter before me on the table. It contained but these
words:--

Bartram-Haugh:

'_30th January, 1845_.

'MY DEAR MADAME,

'Be so good as to take the half-past eight o'clock train to _Dover_
to-night. Beds are prepared.--Yours very truly,

SILAS RUTHYN.'

I cannot say what it was in this short advice that struck me with fear. Was
it the thick line beneath the word 'Dover,' that was so uncalled for, and
gave me a faint but terrible sense of something preconcerted?

I said to Madame--

'Why is "Dover" underlined?'

'I do not know, little fool, no more than you. How can I tell what is
passing in your oncle's head when he make that a mark?'

'Has it not a meaning, Madame?'

'How can you talk like that?' she answered, more in her old way. 'You are
either mocking of me, or you are becoming truly a fool!'

She rang the bell, called for our bill, saw our hostess; while I made a few
hasty prepartions in my room.

'You need not look after the trunks--they will follow us all right. Let us
go, cheaile--we 'av half an hour only to reach the train.'

No one ever fussed like Madame when occasion offered. There was a cab at
the door, into which she hurried me. I assumed that she would give all
needful directions, and leaned back, very weary and sleepy already, though
it was so early, listening to her farewell screamed from the cab-step, and
seeing her black cloak flitting and flapping this way and that, like the
wings of a raven disturbed over its prey.

In she got, and away we drove through a glare of lamps, and shop-windows,
still open; gas everywhere, and cabs, busses, and carriages, still
thundering through the streets. I was too tired and too depressed to look
at those things. Madame, on the contrary, had her head out of the window
till we reached the station.

'Where are the rest of the boxes?' I asked, as Madame placed me in charge
of her box and my bag in the office of the terminus.

'They will follow with Boots in another cab, and will come safe with us in
this train. Mind those two, we weel bring in the carriage with us.'

So into a carriage we got; in came Madame's box and my bag; Madame stood at
the door, and, I think, frightened away intending passengers, by her size
and shrillness.

At last the bell rang her into her place, the door clapt, the whistle
sounded, and we were off.




CHAPTER LXI

_OUR BED-CHAMBER_


I had passed a miserable night, and, indeed, for many nights had not had my
due proportion of sleep. Still I sometimes fancy that I may have swallowed
something in my tea that helped to make me so irresistibly drowsy. It was a
very dark night--no moon, and the stars soon hid by the gathering clouds.
Madame sat silent, and ruminating in her place, with her rugs about her.
I, in my corner similarly enveloped, tried to keep awake. Madame plainly
thought I was asleep already, for she stole a leather flask from her
pocket, and applied it to her lips, causing an aroma of brandy.

But it was vain struggling against the influence that was stealing over me,
and I was soon in a profound and dreamless slumber.

Madame awoke me at last, in a huge fuss. She had got out all our things and
hurried them away to a close carriage which was awaiting us. It was still
dark and starless. We got along the platform, I half asleep, the porter
carrying our rugs, by the glare of a pair of gas-jets in the wall, and out
by a small door at the end.

I remember that Madame, contrary to her wont, gave the man some money. By
the puzzling light of the carriage-lamps we got in and took our seats.

'Go on,' screamed Madame, and drew up the window with a great chuck; and we
were enclosed in darkness and silence, the most favourable conditions for
thought.

My sleep had not restored me as it might; I felt feverish, fatigued, and
still very drowsy, though unable to sleep as I had done.

I dozed by fits and starts, and lay awake, or half-awake, sometimes, not
thinking but in a way imagining what kind of a place Dover would be; but
too tired and listless to ask Madame any questions, and merely seeing the
hedges, grey in the lamplight, glide backward into darkness, as I leaned
back.

We turned off the main road, at right angles, and drew up.

'Get down and poosh it, it is open,' screamed Madame from the window.

A gate, I suppose, was thus passed; for when we resumed our brisk trot,
Madame bawled across the carriage--

'We are now in the 'otel grounds.'

And so all again was darkness and silence, and I fell into another doze,
from which, on waking, I found that we had come to a standstill, and Madame
was standing on the low step of an open door, paying the driver. She,
herself, pulled her box and the bag in. I was too tired to care what had
become of the rest of our luggage.

I descended, glancing to the right and left, but there was nothing visible
but a patch of light from the lamps on a paved ground and on the wall.

We stepped into the hall or vestibule, and Madame shut the door, and I
thought I heard the key turn in it. We were in total darkness.

'Where are the lights, Madame--where are the people?' I asked, more awake
than I had been.

''Tis pass three o'clock, cheaile, bote there is always light here.' She
was groping at the side; and in a moment more lighted a lucifer match, and
so a bedroom candle.

We were in a flagged lobby, under an archway at the right, and at the left
of which opened long flagged passages, lost in darkness; a winding stair,
barely wide enough to admit Madame, dragging her box, led upward under a
doorway, in a corner at the right.

'Come, dear cheaile, take your bag; don't mind the rugs, they are safe
enough.'

'But where are we to go? There is no one!' I said, looking round in wonder.
It certainly was a strange reception at an hotel.

'Never mind, my dear cheaile. They know me here, and I have always the same
room ready when I write for it. Follow me quaitely.'

So she mounted, carrying the candle. The stair was steep, and the march
long. We halted at the second landing, and entered a gaunt, grimy passage.
All the way up we had not heard a single sound of life, nor seen a human
being, nor so much as passed a gaslight.

'Viola! here 'tis, my dear old room. Enter, dearest Maud.'

And so I did. The room was large and lofty, but shabby and dismal. There
was a tall four-post bed, with its foot beside the window, hung with
dark-green curtains, of some plush or velvet texture, that looked like
a dusty pall. The remaining furniture was scant and old, and a ravelled
square of threadbare carpet covered a patch of floor at the bedside. The
room was grim and large, and had a cold, vault-like atmosphere, as if
long uninhabited; but there were cinders in the grate and under it. The
imperfect light of our mutton-fat candle made all this look still more
comfortless.

Madame placed the candle on the chimneypiece, locked the door, and put the
key in her pocket.

'I always do so in '_otel_' said she, with a wink at me.

And, then with a long 'ha!' expressive of fatigue and relief, she threw
herself into a chair.

'So 'ere we are at last!' said she; 'I'm glad. _There's_ your bed, Maud.
_Mine_ is in the dressing-room.'

She took the candle, and I went in with her. A shabby press bed, a
chair, and table were all its furniture; it was rather a closet than a
dressing-room, and had no door except that through which we had entered. So
we returned, and very tired, wondering, I sat down on the side of my bed
and yawned.

'I hope they will call us in time for the packet,' I said.

'Oh yes, they never fail,' she answered, looking steadfastly on her box,
which she was diligently uncording.

Uninviting as was my bed, I was longing to lie down in it; and having made
those ablutions which our journey rendered necessary, I at length lay
down, having first religiously stuck my talismanic pin, with the head of
sealing-wax, into the bolster.

Nothing escaped the restless eye of Madame.

'Wat is that, dear cheaile?' she enquired, drawing near and scrutinising
the head of the gipsy charm, which showed like a little ladybird newly
lighted on the sheet.

'Nothing--a charm--folly. Pray, Madame, allow me to go to sleep.'

So, with another look and a little twiddle between her finger and thumb,
she seemed satisfied; but, unhappily for me, she did not seem at all
sleepy. She busied herself in unpacking and displaying over the back of the
chair a whole series of London purchases--silk dresses, a shawl, a sort of
lace demi-coiffure then in vogue, and a variety of other articles.

The vainest and most slammakin of women--the merest slut at home,
a milliner's lay figure out of doors--she had one square foot of
looking-glass upon the chimneypiece, and therein tried effects, and
conjured up grotesque simpers upon her sinister and weary face.

I knew that the sure way to prolong this worry was to express my uneasiness
under it, so I bore it as quietly as I could; and at last fell fast asleep
with the gaunt image of Madame, with a festoon of grey silk with a cerise
stripe, pinched up in her finger and thumb, and smiling over her shoulder
across it into the little shaving-glass that stood on the chimney.

I awoke suddenly in the morning, and sat up in my bed, having for a moment
forgotten all about our travelling. A moment more, however, brought all
back again.

'Are we in time, Madame?'

'For the packet?' she enquired, with one of her charming smiles, and
cutting a caper on the floor. 'To be sure; you don't suppose they would
forget. We have two hours yet to wait.'

'Can we see the sea from the window?'

'No, dearest cheaile; you will see't time enough.

'I'd like to get up,' I said.

'Time enough, my dear Maud; you are fatigued; are you sure you feel quite
well?'

'Well enough to get up; I should be better, I think, out of bed.'

'There is no hurry, you know; you need not even go by the next packet. Your
uncle, he tell me, I may use my discretion.'

'Is there any water?'

'They will bring some.'

'Please, Madame, ring the bell.'

She pulled it with alacrity. I afterwards learnt that it did not ring.

'What has become of my gipsy pin?' I demanded, with an unaccountable
sinking of the heart.

'Oh! the little pin with the red top? maybe it 'as fall on the ground; we
weel find when you get up.'

I suspected that she had taken it merely to spite me. It would have been
quite the thing she would have liked. I cannot describe to you how the loss
of this little 'charm' depressed and excited me. I searched the bed; I
turned over all the bed-clothes; I searched in and outside; at last I gave
up.

'How odious!' I cried; 'somebody has stolen it merely to vex me.'

And, like a fool as I was, I threw myself on my face on the bed and wept,
partly in anger, partly in dismay.

After a time, however, this blew over. I had a hope of recovering it.
If Madame had stolen it, it would turn up yet. But in the meantime its
disappearance troubled me like an omen.

'I am afraid, my dear cheaile, you are not very well. It is really very odd
you should make such fuss about a pin! Nobody would believe! Do you not
theenk it would be a good plan to take a your breakfast in your bed?

She continued to urge this point for some time. At last, however, having
by this time quite recovered my self-command, and resolved to preserve
ostensibly fair terms with Madame, who could contribute so essentially to
make me wretched during the rest of my journey, and possibly to prejudice
me very seriously on my arrival, I said quietly--

'Well, Madame, I know it is very silly; but I had kept that foolish little
pin so long and so carefully, that I had grown quite fond of it; but I
suppose it is lost, and I must content myself, though I cannot laugh as you
do. So I will get up now, and dress.'

'I think you will do well to get all the repose you can,' answered Madame;
'but as you please,' she added, observing that I was getting up.

So soon as I had got some of my things on, I said--

'Is there a pretty view from the window?'

'No,' said Madame.

I looked out and saw a dreary quadrangle of cut stone, in one side of which
my window was placed. As I looked a dream rose up before me.

'This hotel,' I said, in a puzzled way. '_Is_ it a hotel? Why this is just
like--it _is_ the inner court of Bartram-Haugh!'

Madame clapped her large hands together, made a fantastic _chassé_ on the
floor, burst into a great nasal laugh like the scream of a parrot, and then
said--

'Well, dearest Maud, is not clever trick?'

I was so utterly confounded that I could only stare about me in stupid
silence, a spectacle which renewed Madame's peals of laughter.

'We are at Bartram-Haugh!' I repeated, in utter consternation. 'How was
this done?'

I had no reply but shrieks of laughter, and one of those Walpurgis dances
in which she excelled.

'It is a mistake--is it? _What_ is it?'

'All a mistake, of course. Bartram-Haugh, it is so like Dover, as all
philosophers know.'

I sat down in total silence, looking out into the deep and dark enclosure,
and trying to comprehend the reality and the meaning of all this.

'Well, Madame, I suppose you will be able to satisfy my uncle of your
fidelity and intelligence. But to me it seems that his money has been
ill-spent, and his directions anything but well observed.'

'Ah, ha! Never mind; I think he will forgive me,' laughed Madame.

Her tone frightened me. I began to think, with a vague but overpowering
sense of danger, that she had acted under the Machiavellian directions of
her superior.

'You have brought me back, then, by my uncle's orders?'

'Did I say so?'

'No; but what you have said can have no other meaning, though I can't
believe it. And why have I been brought here? What is the object of all
this duplicity and trick. I _will_ know. It is not possible that my uncle,
a gentleman and a kinsman, can be privy to so disreputable a manouvre.'

'First you will eat your breakfast, dear Maud; next you can tell your story
to your uncle, Monsieur Ruthyn; and then you shall hear what he thinks of
my so terrible misconduct. What nonsense, cheaile! Can you not think how
many things may 'appen to change a your uncle's plans? Is he not in danger
to be arrest? Bah! You are cheaile still; you cannot have intelligence more
than a cheaile. Dress yourself, and I will order breakfast.'

I could not comprehend the strategy which had been practised on me. Why had
I been so shamelessly deceived? If it were decided that I should remain
here, for what imaginable reason had I been sent so far on my journey to
France? Why had I been conveyed back with such mystery? Why was I removed
to this uncomfortable and desolate room, on the same floor with the
apartment in which Charke had met his death, and with no window commanding
the front of the house, and no view but the deep and weed-choked court,
that looked like a deserted churchyard in a city?

'I suppose I may go to my own room?' I said.

'Not to-day, my dear cheaile, for it was all disarrange when we go 'way;
'twill be ready again in two three days.'

'Where is Mary Quince?' I asked.

'Mary Quince!--she has follow us to France,' said Madame, making what in
Ireland they call a bull.

'They are not sure where they will go or what will do for day or two more.
I will go and get breakfast. Adieu for a moment.'

Madame was out of the door as she said this, and I thought I heard the key
turn in the lock.




CHAPTER LXII

_A WELL-KNOWN FACE LOOKS IN_


You who have never experienced it can have no idea how angry and frightened
you become under the sinister insult of being locked into a room, as on
trying the door I found I was.

The key was in the lock; I could see it through the hole. I called after
Madame, I shook at the solid oak-door, beat upon it with my hands, kicked
it--but all to no purpose.

I rushed into the next room, forgetting--if indeed I had observed it, that
there was no door from it upon the gallery. I turned round in an angry and
dismayed perplexity, and, like prisoners in romances, examined the windows.

I was shocked and affrighted on discovering in reality what they
occasionally find--a series of iron bars crossing the window! They were
firmly secured in the oak woodwork of the window-frame, and each window
was, besides, so compactly screwed down that it could not open. This
bedroom was converted into a prison. A momentary hope flashed on
me--perhaps all the windows were secured alike! But it was no such thing:
these gaol-like precautions were confined to the windows to which I had
access.

For a few minutes I felt quite distracted; but I bethought me that I must
now, if ever, control my terrors and exert whatever faculties I possessed.

I stood upon a chair and examined the oak-work. I thought I detected marks
of new chiselling here and there. The screws, too, looked new; and they
and the scars on the woodwork were freshly smeared over with some coloured
stuff by way of disguise.

While I was making these observations, I heard the key stealthily stirred.
I suspect that Madame wished to surprise me. Her approaching step, indeed,
was seldom audible; she had the soft tread of the feline tribe.

I was standing in the centre of the room confronting her when she entered.

'Why did you lock the door, Madame?' I demanded.

She slipped in suddenly with an insidious smirk, and locked the door
hastily.

'Hish!' whispered Madame, raising her broad palm; and then screwing in her
cheeks, she made an ogle over her shoulder in the direction of the passage.

'Hish! be quiate, cheaile, weel you, and I weel tale you everything
presently.'

She paused, with her ear laid to the door.

'Now I can speak, ma chère; I weel tale a you there is bailiff in the
house, two, three, four soche impertinent fallows! They have another as bad
as themselve to make a leest of the furniture: we most keep them out of
these rooms, dear Maud.'

'You left the key in the door on the outside,' I retorted; 'that was not to
keep them out, but me in, Madame.'

'_Deed_ I leave the key in the door?' ejaculated Madame, with both hands
raised, and such a genuine look of consternation as for a moment shook me.

It was the nature of this woman's deceptions that they often puzzled though
they seldom convinced me.

'I re-ally think, Maud, all those so frequent changes and excite-ments they
weel overturn my poor head.'

'And the windows are secured with iron bars--what are they for?' I
whispered sternly, pointing with my finger at these grim securities.

'That is for more a than forty years, when Sir Phileep Aylmer was to reside
here, and had this room for his children's nursery, and was afraid they
should fall out.'

'But if you look you will find these bars have been put here very recently:
the screws and marks are quite new.'

'_Eendeed!_' ejaculated Madame, with prolonged emphasis, in precisely the
same consternation. 'Why, my dear, they told a me down stair what I have
tell a you, when I ask the reason! Late a me see.'

And Madame mounted on a chair, and made her scrutiny with much curiosity,
but could not agree with me as to the very recent date of the carpentry.

There is nothing, I think, so exasperating as that sort of falsehood which
affects not to see what is quite palpable.

'Do you mean to say, Madame, that you really think those chisellings and
screws are forty years old?'

'How can I tell, cheaile? What does signify whether it is forty or only
fourteen years? Bah! we av other theeng to theenk about. Those villain men!
I am glad to see bar and bolt, and lock and key, at least, to our room, to
keep soche faylows out!'

At that moment a knock came to the door, and Madame's nasal 'in moment'
answered promptly, and she opened the door, stealthily popping out her
head.

'Oh, that is all right; go you long, no ting more, go way.'

'Who's there?' I cried.

'Hold a your tongue,' said Madame imperiously to the visitor, whose voice I
fancied I recognised--'_go_ way.'

Out slipped Madame again, locking the door; but this time she returned
immediately, bearing a tray with breakfast.

I think she fancied that I would perhaps attempt to break away and escape;
but I had no such thought at that moment. She hastily set down the tray on
the floor at the threshold, locking the door as before.

My share of breakfast was a little tea; but Madame's digestion was seldom
disturbed by her sympathies, and she ate voraciously. During this process
there was a silence unusual in her company; but when her meal was ended she
proposed a reconnaissance, professing much uncertainty as to whether my
Uncle had been arrested or not.

'And in case the poor old gentleman be poot in what you call stone jug,
where are _we_ to go my dear Maud--to Knowl or to Elverston? You must
direct.'

And so she disappeared, turning the key in the door as before. It was an
old custom of hers, locking herself in her room, and leaving the key in the
lock; and the habit prevailed, for she left it there again.

With a heavy heart I completed my simple toilet, wondering all the while
how much of Madame's story might be false and how much, if any, true. Then
I looked out upon the dingy courtyard below, in its deep damp shadow, and
thought, 'How could an assassin have scaled that height in safety, and
entered so noiselessly as not to awaken the slumbering gamester?' Then
there were the iron bars across my window. What a fool had I been to object
to that security!

I was labouring hard to reassure myself, and keep all ghastly suspicions at
arm's length. But I wished that my room had been to the front of the house,
with some view less dismal.

Lost in these ruminations of fear, as I stood at the window I was startled
by the sound of a sharp tread on the lobby, and by the key turning in the
lock of my door.

In a panic I sprang back into the corner, and stood with my eyes fixed
upon the door. It opened a little, and the black head of Meg Hawkes was
introduced.

'Oh, Meg!' I cried; 'thank God!'

'I guessed'twas you, Miss Maud. I am feared, Miss.'

The miller's daughter was pale, and her eyes, I thought, were red and
swollen.

'Oh, Meg! for God's sake, what is it all?'

'I darn't come in. The old un's gone down, and locked the cross-door, and
left me to watch. They think I care nout about ye, no more nor themselves.
I donna know all, but summat more nor her. They tell her nout, she's so
gi'n to drink; they say she's not safe, an' awful quarrelsome. I hear a
deal when fayther and Master Dudley be a-talkin' in the mill. They think,
comin' in an' out, I don't mind; but I put one think an' t'other together.
An' don't ye eat nor drink nout here, Miss; hide away this; it's black
enough, but wholesome anyhow!' and she slipt a piece of a coarse loaf from
under her apron. '_Hide_ it mind. Drink nout but the water in the jug
there--it's clean spring.'

'Oh, Meg! Oh, Meg! I know what you mean,' said I, faintly.

'Ay, Miss, I'm feared they'll try it; they'll try to make away wi' ye
somehow. I'm goin' to your friends arter dark; I darn't try it no sooner.
I'll git awa to Ellerston, to your lady-cousin, and I'll bring 'em back wi'
me in a rin; so keep a good hairt, lass. Meg Hawkes will stan' to ye. Ye
were better to me than fayther and mother, and a';' and she clasped me
round the waist, and buried her head in my dress; 'an I'll gie my life for
ye, darling, and if they hurt ye I'll kill myself.'

She recovered her sterner mood quickly--

'Not a word, lass,' she said, in her old tone. 'Don't ye try to git
away--they'll _kill_ ye--ye _can't_ do't. Leave a' to me. It won't be,
whatever it is, till two or three o'clock in the morning. I'll ha'e them a'
here long afore; so keep a brave heart--there's a darling.'

I suppose she heard, or fancied she heard, a step approaching, for she
said--

'Hish!'

Her pale wild face vanished, the door shut quickly and softly, and the key
turned again in the lock.

Meg, in her rude way, had spoken softly--almost under her breath; but no
prophecy shrieked by the Pythoness ever thundered so madly in the ears of
the hearer. I dare say that Meg fancied I was marvellously little moved by
her words. I felt my gaze grow intense, and my flesh and bones literally
freeze. She did not know that every word she spoke seemed to burst like a
blaze in my brain. She had delivered her frightful warning, and told
her story coarsely and bluntly, which, in effect, means distinctly and
concisely; and, I dare say, the announcement so made, like a quick bold
incision in surgery, was more tolerable than the slow imperfect mangling,
which falters and recedes and equivocates with torture. Madame was long
away. I sat down at the window, and tried to appreciate my dreadful
situation. I was stupid--the imagery was all frightful; but I beheld it as
we sometimes see horrors--heads cut off and houses burnt--in a dream, and
without the corresponding emotions. It did not seem as if all this were
really happening to me. I remember sitting at the window, and looking and
blinking at the opposite side of the building, like a person unable but
striving to see an object distinctly, and every minute pressing my hand to
the side of my head and saying--

'Oh, it won't be--it won't be--Oh no!--never!--it could not be!' And in
this stunned state Madame found me on her return.

But the valley of the shadow of death has its varieties of dread. The
'horror of great darkness' is disturbed by voices and illumed by sights.
There are periods of incapacity and collapse, followed by paroxysms
of active terror. Thus in my journey during those long hours I found
it--agonies subsiding into lethargies, and these breaking again into
frenzy. I sometimes wonder how I carried my reason safely through the
ordeal.

Madame locked the door, and amused herself with her own business, without
minding me, humming little nasal snatches of French airs, as she smirked on
her silken purchases displayed in the daylight. Suddenly it struck me that
it was very dark, considering how early it was. I looked at my watch;
it seemed to me a great effort of concentration to understand it. Four
o'clock, it said. Four o'clock! It would be dark at five--_night_ in one
hour!

'Madame, what o'clock is it? Is it evening?' I cried with my hand to my
forehead, like a person puzzled.

'Two three minutes past four. It had five minutes to four when I came
upstairs,' answered she, without interrupting her examination of a piece of
darned lace which she was holding close to her eyes at the window.

'Oh, Madame! _Madame!_ I'm frightened,' cried I, with a wild and piteous
voice, grasping her arm, and looking up, as shipwrecked people may their
last to heaven, into her inexorable eyes. Madame looked frightened too, I
thought, as she stared into my face. At last she said, rather angrily, and
shaking her arm loose--

'What you mean, cheaile?'

'Oh save me, Madame!--oh save me!--oh save me, Madame!' I pleaded, with the
wild monotony of perfect terror, grasping and clinging to her dress, and
looking up, with an agonised face, into the eyes of that shadowy Atropos.

'Save a you, indeed! Save! What _niaiserie_!'

'Oh, Madame! Oh, _dear_ Madame! for God's sake, only get me away--get me
from this, and I'll do everything you ask me all my life--I will--_indeed_,
Madame, I will! Oh save me! save me! _save_ me!'

I was clinging to Madame as to my guardian angel in my agony.

'And who told you, cheaile, you are in any danger?' demanded Madame,
looking down on me with a black and witchlike stare.

'I am, Madame--I am--in great danger! Oh, Madame, think of me--take pity on
me! I have none to help me--there is no one but God and you!'

Madame all this time viewed me with the same dismal stare, like a sorceress
reading futurity in my face.

'Well, maybe you are--how can I tell? Maybe your uncle is mad--maybe you
are mad. You have been my enemy always--why should I care?'

Again I burst into wild entreaty, and, clasping her fast, poured forth my
supplications with the bitterness of death.

'I have no confidence in you, little Maud; you are little rogue--petite
traîtresse! Reflect, if you can, how you 'av always treat Madame. You 'av
attempt to ruin me--you conspire with the bad domestics at Knowl to destroy
me--and you expect me here to take a your part! You would never listen to
me--you 'ad no mercy for me--you join to hunt me away from your house like
wolf. Well, what you expect to find me now? _Bah_!'

This terrific 'Bah!' with a long nasal yell of scorn, rang in my ears like
a clap of thunder.

'I say you are mad, petite insolente, to suppose I should care for you more
than the poor hare it will care for the hound--more than the bird who has
escape will love the oiseleur. I do not care--I ought not care. It is your
turn to suffer. Lie down on your bed there, and suffer quaitely.'




CHAPTER LXIII

_SPICED CLARET_


I did not lie down; but I despaired. I walked round and round the room,
wringing my hands in utter distraction. I threw myself at the bedside on my
knees. I could not pray; I could only shiver and moan, with hands clasped,
and eyes of horror turned up to heaven. I think Madame was, in her
malignant way, perplexed. That some evil was intended me I am sure she was
persuaded; but I dare say Meg Hawkes had said rightly in telling me that
she was not fully in their secrets.

The first paroxysm of despair subsided into another state. All at once my
mind was filled with the idea of Meg Hawkes, her enterprise, and my chances
of escape. There is one point at which the road to Elverston makes a short
ascent: there is a sudden curve there, two great ash-trees, with a roadside
stile between, at the right side, covered with ivy. Driving back and
forward, I did not recollect having particularly remarked this point in
the highway; but now it was before me, in the thin light of the thinnest
segment of moon, and the figure of Meg Hawkes, her back toward me, always
ascending towards Elverston. It was constantly the same picture--the same
motion without progress--the same dreadful suspense and impatience.

I was now sitting on the side of the bed, looking wistfully across the
room. When I did not see Meg Hawkes, I beheld Madame darkly eyeing first
one then another point of the chamber, evidently puzzling over some
problem, and in one of her most savage moods--sometimes muttering to
herself, sometimes protruding, and sometimes screwing up her great mouth.

She went into her own room, where she remained, I think, nearly ten
minutes, and on her return there was that in the flash of her eyes, the
glow of her face, and the peculiar fragrance that surrounded her, that
showed she had been partaking of her favourite restorative.

I had not moved since she left my room.

She paused about the middle of the floor, and looked at me with what I can
only describe as her wild-beast stare.

'You are a very secrete family, you Ruthyns--you are so coning. I hate the
coning people. By my faith, I weel see Mr. Silas Ruthyn, and ask wat he
mean. I heard him tell old Wyat that Mr. Dudley is gone away to-night. He
shall tell me everything, or else I weel make echec et mat aussi vrai que
je vis.'

Madame's words had hardly ceased, when I was again watching Meg Hawkes on
the steep road, mounting, but never reaching, the top of the acclivity, on
the way to Elverston, and mentally praying that she might be brought
safely there. Vain prayer of an agonised heart! Meg's journey was already
frustrated: she was not to reach Elverston in time.

Madame revisited her apartment, and returned, not, I think, improved in
temper. She walked about the room, hustling the scanty furniture hither and
thither as she encountered it. She kicked her empty box out of her way,
with a horrid crash, and a curse in French. She strode and swaggered round
the room, muttering all the way, and turning the corners of her course with
a furious whisk. At last, out of the door she went. I think she fancied she
had not been sufficiently taken into confidence as to what was intended for
me.

It was now growing late, and yet no succour! I was seized, I remember, with
a dreadful icy shivering.

I was listening for signals of deliverance. At ever distant sound, half
stifled with a palpitation, these sounds piercing my ear with a horrible
and exaggerated distinctness--'Oh Meg!--Oh cousin Monica!--Oh come! Oh
Heaven, have mercy!--Lord, have mercy!' I thought I heard a roaring and
jangle of voices. Perhaps it came from Uncle Silas's room. It might be the
tipsy violence of Madame. It might--merciful Heaven!--be the arrival of
friends. I started to my feet; I listened, quivering with attention. Was
it in my brain?--was it real? I was at the door, and it seemed to open of
itself. Madame had forgotten to lock it; she was losing her head a little
by this time. The key stood in the gallery door beyond; it too, was open.
I fled wildly. There was a subsiding sound of voices in my uncle's room.
I was, I know not how, on the lobby at the great stair-head outside my
uncle's apartment. My hand was on the banisters, my foot on the first step,
when below me and against the faint light that glimmered through the great
window on the landing I saw a bulky human form ascending, and a voice said
'Hush!' I staggered back, and at that instant fancied, with a thrill of
conviction, I heard Lady Knollys's voice in Uncle Silas' room.

I don't know how I entered the room; I was there like a ghost. I was
frightened at my own state.

Lady Knollys was not there--no one but Madame and my guardian.

I can never forget the look that Uncle Silas fixed on me as he cowered,
seemingly as appalled as I.

I think I must have looked like a phantom newly risen from the grave.

'What's that?--where do you come from?' whispered he.

'Death! death!' was my whispered answer, as I froze with terror where I
stood.

'What does she mean?--what does all this mean?' said Uncle Silas,
recovering wonderfully, and turning with a withering sneer on Madame. 'Do
you think it right to disobey my plain directions, and let her run about
the house at this hour?'

'Death! death! Oh, pray to God for you and me!' I whispered in the same
dreadful tones.

My uncle stared strangely at me again; and after several horrible seconds,
in which he seemed to have recovered himself, he said, sternly and coolly--

'You give too much place to your imagination, niece. Your spirits are in an
odd state--you ought to have advice.'

'Oh, uncle, pity me! Oh, uncle, you are good! you're kind; you're kind
when you think. You could not--you could not--could not! Oh, think of your
brother that was always so good to you! He sees me here. He sees us both.
Oh, save me, uncle--save me!--and I'll give up everything to you. I'll pray
to God to bless you--I'll never forget your goodness and mercy. But don't
keep me in doubt. If I'm to go, oh, for God's sake, shoot me now!'

'You were always odd, niece; I begin to fear you are insane,' he replied,
in the same stern icy tone.

'Oh, uncle--oh!--am I? Am I _mad_?'

'I hope not; but you'll conduct yourself like a sane person if you wish to
enjoy the privileges of one.'

Then, with his finger pointing at me, he turned to Madame, and said, in a
tone of suppressed ferocity--

'What's the meaning of this?--why is she here?'

Madame was gabbling volubly, but to me it was only a shrilly noise. My
whole soul was concentrated in my uncle, the arbiter of my life, before
whom I stood in the wildest agony of supplication.

That night was dreadful. The people I saw dizzily, made of smoke or shining
vapour, smiling or frowning, I could have passed my hand through them. They
were evil spirits.

'There's no ill intended you; by ---- there's none,' said my uncle, for
the first time violently agitated. 'Madame told you why we've changed your
room. You told her about the bailiffs, did not you? 'with a stamp of fury
he demanded of Madame, whose nasal roullades of talk were running on like a
accompaniment all the time. She had told me indeed only a few hours since,
and now it sounded to me like the echo of something heard a month ago or
more.

'You can't go about the house, d--n it, with bailiffs in occupation. There
now--there's the whole thing. Get to your room, Maud, and don't vex me.
There's a good girl.'

He was trying to smile as he spoke these last words, and, with quavering
soft tones, to quiet me; but the old scowl was there, the smile was
corpse-like and contorted, and the softness of his tones was more dreadful
than another man's ferocity.

'There, Madame, she'll go quite gently, and you can call if you want help.
Don't let it happen again.'

'Come, Maud,' said Madame, encircling but not hurting my arm with her grip;
'let us go, my friend.'

I did go, you will wonder, as well you may--as you may wonder at the
docility with which strong men walk through the press-room to the drop,
and thank the people of the prison for their civility when they bid them
good-bye, and facilitate the fixing of the rope and adjusting of the cap.
Have you never wondered that they don't make a last battle for life with
the unscrupulous energy of terror, instead of surrendering it so gently in
cold blood, on a silent calculation, the arithmetic of despair?

I went upstairs with Madame like a somnambulist. I rather quickened my
step as I drew near my room. I went in, and stood a phantom at the window,
looking into the dark quadrange. A thin glimmering crescent hung in the
frosty sky, and all heaven was strewn with stars. Over the steep roof at
the other side spread on the dark azure of the night this glorious blazonry
of the unfathomable Creator. To me a dreadful scroll--inexorable eyes--the
cloud of cruel witnesses looking down in freezing brightness on my prayers
and agonies.

I turned about and sat down, leaning my head upon my arms. Then suddenly I
sat up, as for the first time the picture of Uncle Silas's littered
room, and the travelling bags and black boxes plied on the floor by his
table--the desk, hat-case, umbrella, coats, rugs, and mufflers, all ready
for a journey--reached my brain and suggested thought. The _mise en
scène_ had remained in every detail fixed upon my retina; and how I
wondered--'When is he going--how soon? Is he going to carry me away and
place me in a madhouse?'

'Am I--am I mad?' I began to think. 'Is this all a dream, or is it real?'

I remembered how a thin polite gentleman, with a tall grizzled head and a
black velvet waistcoat, came into the carriage on our journey, and said a
few words to me; how Madame whispered him something, and he murmured 'Oh!'
very gently, with raised eyebrows, and a glance at me, and thenceforward
spoke no more to me, only to Madame, and at the next station carried his
hat and other travelling chattels into another carriage. Had she told him I
was mad?

These horrid bars! Madame always with me! The direful hints that dropt from
my uncle! My own terrific sensations!--All these evidences revolved in my
brain, and presented themselves in turn like writings on a wheel of fire.

There came a knock to the door--

Oh, Meg! Was it she? No; old Wyat whispered Madame something about her
room.

So Madame re-entered, with a little silver tray and flagon in her hands,
and a glass. Nothing came from Uncle Silas in ungentlemanlike fashion.

'Drink, Maud,' said Madame, raising the cover, and evidently enjoying the
fragrant steam.

I could not. I might have done so had I been able to swallow anything--for
I was too distracted to think of Meg's warning.

Madame suddenly recollected her mistake of that evening, and tried the
door; but it was duly locked. She took the key from her pocket and placed
it in her breast.

'You weel 'av these rooms to yourself, ma chère. I shall sleep downstairs
to-night.'

She poured out some of the hot claret into the glass abstractedly, and
drank it off.

''Tis very good--I drank without theenk. Bote 'tis very good. Why don't you
drink some?'

'I could not', I repeated. And Madame boldly helped herself.

'Vary polite, certally, to Madame was it to send nothing at all for _hair_'
(so she pronounced 'her'); 'bote is all same thing.' And so she ran on in
her tipsy vein, which was loud and sarcastic, with a fierce laugh now and
then.

Afterwards I heard that they were afraid of Madame, who was given to cross
purposes, and violent in her cups. She had been noisy and quarrelsome
downstairs. She was under the delusion that I was to be conveyed away that
night to a remote and safe place, and she was to be handsomely compensated
for services and evidence to be afterwards given. She was not to be
trusted, however, with the truth. That was to be known but to three people
on earth.

I never knew, but I believe that the spiced claret which Madame drank was
drugged. She was a person who could, I have been told. Drink a great deal
without exhibiting any change from it but an inflamed colour and furious
temper. I can only state for certain what I saw, and that was, that shortly
after she had finished the claret she laid down upon my bed, and, I now
know, fell asleep. I then thought she was _feigning_ sleep only, and that
she was really watching me.

About an hour after this I suddenly heard a little _clink_ in the
yard beneath. I peeped out, but saw nothing. The sound was repeated,
however--sometimes more frequently, sometimes at long intervals. At last,
in the deep shadow next the farther wall, I thought I could discover a
figure, sometimes erect, sometimes stooping and bowing toward the earth. I
could see this figure only in the rudest outline mingling with the dark.

Like a thunderbolt it smote my brain. 'They are making my grave!'

After the first dreadful stun I grew quite wild, and ran up and down the
room wringing my hands and gasping prayers to heaven. Then a calm stole
over me--such a dreadful calm as I could fancy glide over one who floated
in a boat under the shadow of the 'Traitor's Gate,' leaving life and hope
and trouble behind.

Shortly after there came a very low tap at my door; then another, like a
tiny post-knock. I could never understand why it was I made no answer. Had
I done so, and thus shown that I was awake, it might have sealed my fate.
I was standing in the middle of the floor staring at the door, which I
expected to see open, and admit I knew not what troop of spectres.




CHAPTER LXIV

_THE HOUR OF DEATH_


It was a very still night and frosty. My candle had long burnt out. There
was still a faint moonlight, which fell in a square of yellow on the floor
near the window, leaving the rest of the room in what to an eye less
accustomed than mine had become to that faint light would have been total
darkness. Now, I am sure, I heard a soft whispering outside my door. I knew
that I was in a state of siege! The crisis was come, and strange to say,
I felt myself grow all at once resolute and self-possessed. It was not a
subsidence, however, of the dreadful excitement, but a sudden screwing-up
of my nerves to a pitch such as I cannot describe.

I suppose the people outside moved with great caution; and the perfect
solidity of the floor, which had not anywhere a creaking board in it,
favoured their noiseless movements. It was well for me that there were
in the house three persons whom it was part of their plan to mystify
respecting my fate. This alone compelled the extreme caution of their
proceedings. They suspected that I had placed furniture against the door,
and were afraid to force it, lest a crash, a scream, perhaps a long and
shrilly struggle, might follow.

I remained for a space which I cannot pretend to estimate in the same
posture, afraid to stir--afraid to move my eye from the door.

A very peculiar grating sound above my head startled me from my
watch--something of the character of sawing, only more crunching, and with
a faint continued rumble in it--utterly inexplicable. It sounded over that
portion of the roof which was farthest from the door, toward which I now
glided; and as I took my stand under cover of the projecting angle of a
clumsy old press that stood close by it, I perceived the room a little
darkened, and I saw a man descend and take his stand upon the window-stone.
He let go a rope, which, however, was still fast round his body, and
employed both his hands, with apparently some exertion, about something at
the side of the window, which in a moment more, in one mass, bars and all,
swung noiselessly open, admitting the frosty night-air; and the man, whom
I now distinctly saw to be Dudley Ruthyn, kneeled on the sill, and stept,
after a moment's listening, into the room. His foot made no sound upon the
floor; his head was bare, and he wore his usual short shooting-jacket.

I cowered to the ground in my post of observation. He stood, as it
seemed to me irresolutely for a moment, and then drew from his pocket an
instrument which I distinctly saw against the faint moonlight. Imagine a
hammer, one end of which had been beaten out into a longish tapering spike,
with a handle something longer than usual. He drew stealthily to the
window, and seemed to examine this hurriedly, and tested its strength with
a twist or two of his hand. And then he adjusted it very carefully in his
grasp, and made two or three little experimental picks with it in the air.

I remained perfectly still, with a terrible composure, crouched in my
hiding-place, my teeth clenched, and prepared to struggle like a tigress
for my life when discovered. I thought his next measure would be to light a
match. I saw a lantern, I fancied, on the window-sill. But this was not his
plan. He stole, in a groping way, which seemed strange to me, who could
distinguish objects in this light, to the side of my bed, the exact
position of which he evidently knew; he stooped over it. Madame was
breathing in the deep respiration of heavy sleep. Suddenly but softly he
laid, as it seemed to me, his left hand over her face, and nearly at the
same instant there came a scrunching blow; an unnatural shriek, beginning
small and swelling for two or three seconds into a yell such as are
imagined in haunted houses, accompanied by a convulsive sound, as of the
motion of running, and the arms drumming on the bed; and then another
blow--and with a horrid gasp he recoiled a step or two, and stood perfectly
still. I heard a horrible tremor quivering through the joints and curtains
of the bedstead--the convulsions of the murdered woman. It was a dreadful
sound, like the shaking of a tree and rustling of leaves. Then once more
he steps to the side of the bed, and I heard another of those horrid
blows--and silence--and another--and more silence--and the diabolical
surgery was ended. For a few seconds, I think, I was on the point of
fainting; but a gentle stir outside the door, close to my ear, startled me,
and proved that there had been a watcher posted outside. There was a little
tapping at the door.

'Who's that?' whispered Dudley, hoarsely.

'A friend,' answered a sweet voice.

And a key was introduced, the door quickly unlocked, and Uncle Silas
entered. I saw that frail, tall, white figure, the venerable silver locks
that resembled those upon the honoured head of John Wesley, and his thin
white hand, the back of which hung so close to my face that I feared to
breathe. I could see his fingers twitching nervously. The smell of perfumes
and of ether entered the room with him.

Dudley was trembling now like a man in an ague-fit.

'Look what you made me do!' he said, maniacally.

'Steady, sir!' said the old man, close beside me.

'Yes, you damned old murderer! I've a mind to do for you.'

'There, Dudley, like a dear boy, don't give way; it's done. Right or wrong,
we can't help it. You must be quiet,' said the old man, with a stern
gentleness.

Dudley groaned.

'Whoever advised it, you're a gainer, Dudley,' said Uncle Silas.

Then there was a pause.

'I hope that was not heard,' said Uncle Silas.

Dudley walked to the window and stood there.

'Come, Dudley, you and Hawkes must use expedition. You know you must get
that out of the way.'

'I've done too much. I won't do nout; I'll not touch it. I wish my hand was
off first; I wish I was a soger. Do as ye like, you an' Hawkes. I won't go
nigh it; damn ye both--and _that_!' and he hurled the hammer with all his
force upon the floor.

'Come, come, be reasonable, Dudley, dear boy. There's nothing to fear but
your own folly. You won't make a noise?'

'Oh, oh, my God!' said Dudley, hoarsely, and wiped his forehead with his
open hand.

'There now, you'll be all well in a minute,' continued the old man.

'You said 'twouldn't hurt her. If I'd a known she'd a screeched like that
I'd never a done it. 'Twas a damn lie. You're the damndest villain on
earth.'

'Come, Dudley!' said the old man under his breath, but very sternly, 'make
up your mind. If you don't choose to go on, it can't be helped; only it's
a pity you began. For _you_ it is a good deal--it does not much matter for
_me_.'

'Ay, for _you_!' echoed Dudley, through his set teeth. 'The old talk!'

'Well, sir,' snarled the old man, in the same low tones, 'you should have
thought of all this before. It's only taking leave of the world a year or
two sooner, but a year or two's something. I'll leave you to do as you
please.'

'Stop, will you? Stop here. I know it's a fixt thing now. If a fella does
a thing he's damned for, you might let him talk a bit anyhow. I don't care
much if I was shot.'

'There now--_there_--just stick to that, and don't run off again. There's a
box and a bag here; we must change the direction, and take them away. The
box has some jewels. Can you see them? I wish we had a light.'

'No, I'd rayther not; I can see well enough. I wish we were out o' this.
_Here's_ the box.'

'Pull it to the window,' said the old man, to my inexpressible relief
advancing at last a few steps.

Coolness was given me in that dreadful moment, and I knew that all depended
on my being prompt and resolute. I stood up swiftly. I often thought if I
had happened to wear silk instead of the cachmere I had on that night, its
rustle would have betrayed me.

I distinctly saw the tall stooping figure of my uncle, and the outline of
his venerable tresses, as he stood between me and the dull light of the
window, like a shape cut in card.

He was saying 'just to _there_,' and pointing with his long arm at that
contracting patch of moonlight which lay squared upon the floor. The door
was about a quarter open, and just as Dudley began to drag Madame's heavy
box, with my jewel-case in it, across the floor from her room, inhaling a
great breath--with a mental prayer for help--I glided on tiptoe from the
room and found myself on the gallery floor.

I turned to my right, simply by chance, and followed a long gallery in the
dark, not running--I was too fearful of making the least noise--but walking
with the tiptoe-swiftness of terror. At the termination of this was a
cross-gallery, one end of which--that to my left--terminated in a great
window, through which the dusky night-view was visible. With the instinct
of terror I chose the darker, and turned again to my right; hurrying
through this long and nearly dark passage, I was terrified by a light,
about thirty feet before me, emerging from the ceiling. In spotted patches
this light fell through the door and sides of a stable lantern, and showed
me a ladder, down which, from an open skylight I suppose for the cool
night-air floated in my face, came Dickon Hawkes notwithstanding his
maimed condition, with so much celerity as to leave me hardly a moment for
consideration.

He sat on the last round of the ladder, and tightened the strap of his
wooden leg.

At my left was a door-case open, but no door. I entered; it was a short
passage about six feet long, leading perhaps to a backstair, but the door
at the end was locked.

I was forced to stand in this recess, then, which afforded no shelter,
while Pegtop stumped by with his lantern in his hand. I fancy he had some
idea of listening to his master unperceived, for he stopped close to my
hiding-place, blew out the candle, and pinched the long snuff with his
horny finger and thumb.

Having listened for a few seconds, he stumped stealthily along the gallery
which I had just traversed, and turned the corner in the direction of the
chamber where the crime had just been committed, and the discovery was
impending. I could see him against the broad window which in the daytime
lighted this long passage, and the moment he had passed the corner I
resumed my flight.

I descended a stair corresponding with that backstair, as I am told, up
which Madame had led me only the night before. I tried the outer door. To
my wild surprise it was open. In a moment I was upon the step, in the free
air, and as instantaneously was seized by the arm in the gripe of a man.

It was Tom Brice, who had already betrayed me, and who was now, in surtout
and hat, waiting to drive the carriage with the guilty father and son from
the scene of their abhorred outrage.




CHAPTER LXV

_IN THE OAK PARLOUR_


So it was vain: I was trapped, and all was over.

I stood before him on the step, the white moon shining on my face. I was
trembling so that I wonder I could stand, my helpless hands raised towards
him, and I looked up in his face. A long shuddering moan--'Oh--oh--oh!' was
all I uttered.

The man, still holding my arm, looked, I thought frightened, into my white
dumb face.

Suddenly he said, in a wild, fierce whisper--

'Never say another word' (I had not uttered one). 'They shan't hurt ye,
Miss; git ye in; I don't care a damn!'

It was an uncouth speech. To me it was the voice of an angel. With a burst
of gratitude that sounded in my own ears like a laugh, I thanked God for
those blessed words.

In a moment more he had placed me in the carriage, and almost instantly we
were in motion--very cautiously while crossing the court, until he had got
the wheels upon the grass, and then at a rapid pace, improving his speed as
the distance increased. He drove along the side of the back-approach to the
house, keeping on the grass; so that our progress, though swaying like that
of a ship in a swell, was very nearly as noiseless.

The gate had been left unlocked--he swung it open, and remounted the box.
And we were now beyond the spell of Bartram-Haugh, thundering--Heaven be
praised!--along the Queen's highway, right in the route to Elverston. It
was literally a gallop. Through the chariot windows I saw Tom stand as he
drove, and every now and then throw an awful glance over his shoulder. Were
we pursued? Never was agony of prayer like mine, as with clasped hands and
wild stare I gazed through the windows on the road, whose trees and hedges
and gabled cottages were chasing one another backward at so giddy a speed.

We were now ascending that identical steep, with the giant ash-trees at the
right and the stile between, which my vision of Meg Hawkes had presented
all that night, when my excited eye detected a running figure within the
hedge. I saw the head of some one crossing the stile in pursuit, and I
heard Brice's name shrieked.

'Drive on--on--on!' I screamed.

But Brice pulled up. I was on my knees on the floor of the carriage, with
clasped hands, expecting capture, when the door opened, and Meg Hawkes,
pale as death, her cloak drawn over her black tresses, looked in.

'Oh!--ho!--ho!--thank God!' she screamed. 'Shake hands, lass. Tom, yer a
good un! He's a good lad, Tom.'

'Come in, Meg--you must sit by me,' I said, recovering all at once.

Meg made no demur. 'Take my hand,' I said offering mine to her disengaged
one.

'I can't, Miss--my arm's broke.'

And so it was, poor thing! She had been espied and overtaken in her errand
of mercy for me, and her ruffian father had felled her with his cudgel, and
then locked her into the cottage, whence, however, she had contrived to
escape, and was now flying to Elverston, having tried in vain to get a
hearing in Feltram, whose people had been for hours in bed.

The door being shut upon Meg, the steaming horses were instantly at a
gallop again.

Tom was still watching as before, with many an anxious glance to rearward,
for pursuit. Again he pulled up, and came to the window.

'Oh, what is it?' cried I.

''Bout that letter, Miss; I couldn't help. 'Twas Dickon, he found it in my
pocket. That's a'.'

'Oh yes!--no matter--thank you--thank Heaven! Are we near Elverston?'

''Twill be a mile, Miss: and please'm to mind I had no finger in't.'

'Thanks--thank you--you're very good--I shall _always_ thank you, Tom, as
long as I live!'

At length we entered Elverston. I think I was half wild. I don't know how I
got into the hall. I was in the oak-parlour, I believe, when I saw cousin
Monica. I was standing, my arms extended. I could not speak; but I ran with
a loud long scream into her arms. I forget a great deal after that.




CONCLUSION


Oh, my beloved cousin Monica! Thank Heaven, you are living still, and
younger, I think, than I in all things but in years.

And Milly, my dear companion, she is now the happy wife of that good little
clergyman, Sprigge Biddlepen. It has been in my power to be of use to them,
and he shall have the next presentation to Dawling.

Meg Hawkes, proud and wayward, and the most affectionate creature on earth,
was married to Tom Brice a few months after these events; and, as both
wished to emigrate, I furnished them with the capital, and I am told they
are likely to be rich. I hear from my kind Meg often, and she seems very
happy.

My dear old friends, Mary Quince and Mrs. Rusk, are, alas! growing old, but
living with me, and very happy. And after long solicitation, I persuaded
Doctor Bryerly, the best and truest of ministers, with my dearest friend's
concurrence, to undertake the management of the Derbyshire estates. In this
I have been most fortunate. He is the very person for such a charge--so
punctual, so laborious, so kind, and so shrewd.

In compliance with medical advice, cousin Monica hurried me away to the
Continent, where she would never permit me to allude to the terrific scenes
which remain branded so awfully on my brain. It needed no constraint. It is
a sort of agony to me even now to think of them.

The plan was craftily devised. Neither old Wyat nor Giles, the butler, had
a suspicion that I had returned to Bartram. Had I been put to death, the
secret of my fate would have been deposited in the keeping of four persons
only--the two Ruthyns, Hawkes, and ultimately Madame. My dear cousin Monica
had been artfully led to believe in my departure for France, and prepared
for my silence. Suspicion might not have been excited for a year after my
death, and then would never, in all probability, have pointed to Bartram as
the scene of the crime. The weeds would have grown over me, and I should
have lain in that deep grave where the corpse of Madame de la Rougierre was
unearthed in the darksome quadrangle of Bartram-Haugh.

It was more than two years after that I heard what had befallen at Bartram
after my flight. Old Wyat, who went early to Uncle Silas's room, to her
surprise--for he had told her that he was that night to accompany his son,
who had to meet the mailtrain to Derby at five o'clock in the morning--saw
her old master lying on the sofa, much in his usual position.

'There was nout much strange about him,' old Wyat said, 'but that his
scent-bottle was spilt on its side over on the table, and he dead.'

She thought he was not quite cold when she found him, and she sent the old
butler for Doctor Jolks, who said he died of too much 'loddlum.'

Of my wretched uncle's religion what am I to say? Was it utter hypocrisy,
or had it at any time a vein of sincerity in it? I cannot say. I don't
believe that he had any heart left for religion, which is the highest form
of affection, to take hold of. Perhaps he was a sceptic with misgivings
about the future, but past the time for finding anything reliable in it.
The devil approached the citadel of his heart by stealth, with many zigzags
and parallels. The idea of marrying me to his son by fair means, then by
foul, and, when that wicked chance was gone, then the design of seizing all
by murder, supervened. I dare say that Uncle Silas thought for a while that
he was a righteous man. He wished to have heaven and to escape hell, if
there were such places. But there were other things whose existence was
not speculative, of which some he coveted, and some he dreaded more, and
temptation came. 'Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver,
precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made
manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by
fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.' There
comes with old age a time when the heart is no longer fusible or malleable,
and must retain the form in which it has cooled down. 'He that is unjust,
let him be unjust still; he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.'

Dudley had disappeared; but in one of her letters, Meg, writing from her
Australian farm, says: 'There's a fella in toon as calls hisself Colbroke,
wi' a good hoose o' wood, 15 foot length, and as by 'bout as silling o' the
pearler o' Bartram--only lots o' rats, they do say, my lady--a bying and
sellin' of goold back and forred wi' the diggin foke and the marchants. His
chick and mouth be wry wi' scar o' burns or vitterel, an' no wiskers, bless
you; but my Tom ee toll him he knowed him for Master Doodley. I ant seed
him; but he sade ad shute Tom soon is look at 'im, an' denide it, wi'
mouthful o' curses and oaf. Tom baint right shure; if I seed un wons i'd no
for sartin; but 'appen,'twil best be let be.' This was all.

Old Hawkes stood his ground, relying on the profound cunning with which
their actual proceedings had been concealed, even from the suspicions of
the two inmates of the house, and on the mystery that habitually shrouded
Bartram-Haugh and all its belongings from the eyes of the outer world.

Strangely enough, he fancied that I had made my escape long before the room
was entered; and, even if he were arrested, there was no evidence, he was
certain, to connect _him_ with the murder, all knowledge of which he would
stoutly deny.

There was an inquest on the body of my uncle, and Dr. Jolks was the chief
witness. They found that his death was caused by 'an excessive dose of
laudanum, accidentally administered by himself.'

It was not until nearly a year after the dreadful occurrences at Bartram
that Dickon Hawkes was arrested on a very awful charge, and placed in gaol.
It was an old crime, committed in Lancashire, that had found him out.
After his conviction, as a last chance, he tried a disclosure of all the
circumstances of the unsuspected death of the Frenchwoman. Her body was
discovered buried where he indicated, in the inner court of Bartram-Haugh,
and, after due legal enquiry, was interred in the churchyard of Feltram.

Thus I escaped the horrors of the witness-box, or the far worse torture of
a dreadful secret.

Doctor Bryerly, shortly after Lady Knollys had described to him the manner
in which Dudley entered my room, visited the house of Bartram-Haugh, and
minutely examined the windows of the room in which Mr. Charke had slept on
the night of his murder. One of these he found provided with powerful steel
hinges, very craftily sunk and concealed in the timber of the window-frame,
which was secured by an iron pin outside, and swung open on its removal.
This was the room in which they had placed me, and this the contrivance
by means of which the room had been entered. The problem of Mr. Charke's
murder was solved.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have penned it. I sit for a moment breathless. My hands are cold and
damp. I rise with a great sigh, and look out on the sweet green landscape
and pastoral hills, and see the flowers and birds and the waving boughs of
glorious trees--all images of liberty and safety; and as the tremendous
nightmare of my youth melts into air, I lift my eyes in boundless gratitude
to the God of all comfort, whose mighty hand and outstretched arm delivered
me. When I lower my eyes and unclasp my hands, my cheeks are wet with
tears. A tiny voice is calling me 'Mamma!' and a beloved smiling face, with
his dear father's silken brown tresses, peeps in.

'Yes, darling, our walk. Come away!'

I am Lady Ilbury, happy in the affection of a beloved and noblehearted
husband. The shy useless girl you have known is now a mother--trying to be
a good one; and this, the last pledge, has lived.

I am not going to tell of sorrows--how brief has been my pride of early
maternity, or how beloved were those whom the Lord gave and the Lord has
taken away. But sometimes as, smiling on my little boy, the tears gather
in my eyes, and he wonders, I can see, why they come, I am thinking--and
trembling while I smile--to think, how strong is love, how frail is life;
and rejoicing while I tremble that, in the deathless love of those who
mourn, the Lord of Life, who never gave a pang in vain, conveys the sweet
and ennobling promise of a compensation by eternal reunion. So, through
my sorrows, I have heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write, from hencefore
blessed are the dead that die in the Lord!'

This world is a parable--the habitation of symbols--the phantoms of
spiritual things immortal shown in material shape. May the blessed
second-sight be mine--to recognise under these beautiful forms of earth the
ANGELS who wear them; for I am sure we may walk with them if we will, and
hear them speak!



THE END





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